Saturday, October 23, 2010

Samir's Journey of Life −8

The first law of dietetics seems to be: if it tastes good, it's bad for you...
Manek Chowk Experience:

Manek Chowk is one of the most unique places of Ahmedabad that transforms itself from an extremely busy trading centre during the daytime to a happening food paradise at night.  It is named after Baba Maneknath.  The story is something like this: Ahmed Shah was traveling and he identified suitable place for the construction of a new city. Baba was living there with his disciples. The wall that Shah’s men would build during the day would develop cracks at night. Badshah then sought Baba’s guidance; he was advised to start the construction of the city from a different location, as the proposed location was not auspicious. Manek Burage is the place from where the construction of this city alternatively started.  The ruler decided to dedicate an important road junction in his memory for the people of this city to remember —thus the name of the crossing called “Manek chowk.”  On every Vijayadashmi the family members (currently the 12th generation) of Baba Maneknath hoist a flag in his memory.
During the 4th APY we experienced this gastronomic delight (on the eve of Dusherra).   I must say that as compared to Bhatiyar Galli, this place was cleaner and the food appeared more palatable.  The scale of this place is wonderful, there is a center square (chowk) and the surrounding buildings gives a sense of enclosure while the meandering street connecting different nodes also creates a mystical character.  The closed shops give a variable backdrop to the kiosks and make shift food joints that come up at night.  Each vendor has a different arrangement of lighting; the intensity and emission lines vary, creating interesting visual patterns. 
Mood lighting at entry(L); Digestive pill shop at exit (R)
Why do I call this place Gastronomic delight is something to be experienced, not written or talked about.  Where else in the city one would get Ice cream sandwich, chocolate sandwich or pineapple sandwich (with real pineapple not jam) or a chocolate pizza?  One thing is for sure: a Chinese or an Italian would commit suicide, once they eat here.  Imagine a pizza having chocolate gravy in place of tomato gravy and topped with cheese?  A Chinese would die since he would fail to understand ‘seeze bun rice’, I took some time to decipher this – its Schezwan Rice!!!  And imagine a dish called ‘Cheeze Chinese Bhel’, even if we interchange items, they sound funny, such as cheese and bhel or cheese and Chinese or Chinese and bhel.  Having said all that, I would still recommend that one must try such food items at least once. 

Yummy Ragda Pattis (L); Big Manek burger (R)
Chocolate Sandwich: a generous layer of butter (read mutton tallow) topped with thick layer of chocolate gravy, garnished with chocolate beads and topped with very generous layer of cheese.  Wow, doesn’t it sound delicious? (Frankly to me its sounds yuck as I don’t have taste buds for any thing sweet!).  The Bhaji pau was so tasty that it will honestly make Honest Pau Bhaji run for its money.  The Ragda-pattice looked irresistible, very colorful and appetizing.  Another food giant will not know where to run is McDonalds, the big Mac will look minuscule in front of the ‘big manek’.  To top it all the most shocking item was on the south Indian menu ‘Gawlia Dosa’, its some thing you can only believe once you see.  One has to be a Sumo wrestler to be able to eat this stuff.  It’s a Sada Dosa with a stuffing of 100 gms of butter!!!!!!!!!!  Imagine gulping 100 gms of butter?  I find it difficult but one of my friend in APY did have one such Dosa (I have not heard of him or seen him after that night)
Chinese Menu (L); Chocolate Sandwich (R)

At the entrance of Manek Chowk one notices a collage of many Hindu deities’.  The genius who came up with recipes (chocolate pizza kind) is also respected as ‘god’.  It is interesting to see that at the exit there is a shop selling all sorts of digestive pills and powder (churan).  It specially advertises a product ‘gas-go-gayab-lo’.  The name is suggestive of what it does.
God-man and inventor of wired recipes (L); Hindu God-Goddesses at the entry to Manek Chowk
I got really inspired from the weird recipes and attempted some thing that was supposed to be Middle Eastern food.  I wished I had access to ‘gas-go-gayab-lo’ pills before trying the recipe.  It would have given my guinea pigs and me a comfortable and easy time.
Ahmedabadi version of ‘Middle Eastern’ food. 
I wanted to cook authentic Middle Eastern Hummus and Falafel.   But I ended up making Ahmedabadi version.  No offences to the Middle Eastern food lovers but in the city of 6 million people, when I looked for fresh Parsley, Iceberg Lettuce and Falafel pita wrap, I could find none.  I must have gone to not less than 9 shops but probably it was my not lucky day.  Hence I had to settle for alternatives therefore I call it Ahmedabadi version.
4 cups of chickpeas (soaked over night)
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt as per taste

Method of preparation:
Boil the chickpeas for 15 minutes on high flame for 5 minutes and later on low flame.  Keep some water (1.5 cups) aside to be used while blending and drain the remaining water.  Mix the remaining ingredients with chickpeas along with 1.5 cups of water saved from boiling chickpeas to the blender and whip it for a few minutes until it is turned in to smooth and consistent paste.  Pour the paste in a flat plate and make a little depression in the centre.  Pour some olive oil in the centre, garnish with dried parsley and red chilly fakes - its ready to eat.  You can eat with hot-fresh naan or pita or as a dip for falafel.

Falafel – Pita wrap:

6 cups of chickpeas (overnight soaked)
6 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium onions, chopped
3 table spoons finely chopped coriander (replacement for fresh parsley)
2 teaspoons coriander powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
3 table spoon flour (atta)
salt and pepper as per taste
2 tomatoes chopped
a small cabbage chopped (replacement for fresh iceberg lettuce)
Pita bread (replacement for falafel pita wrap)
Tahini paste

Method of preparation:
Boil the chickpeas for 15 minutes on high flame for 5 minutes and later on low flame.  Mix all the ingredients (except flour) in the mixture to mash in to a course paste.   Make patties and cover it with the flour.  Deep fry the patties until golden brown.  Put it over a tissue for the excess oil to soak.

Take the pita bread, cut a small sleeve and apply some tahini on the inner layer, put small pieces of the falafel topped with tomatoes, cabbage and put a generous layer of hummus.  Garnish with some olive oil, parsley and paprika (to make it more spicy).  You could even try making Falafel burger using a bun.

Ingredients for Hummus (L); for Falafel (R)
Making a paste in mixture (L); Making Patties (R)
Deep frying (L); Falafel Pita wrap stuffing (R)
Finished Hummus (L); Finished Falafel Pita Wrap (R)
Caution: if you repeatedly taste while making hummus and falafel, by the time you complete the dish, you will feel bloated and lose the appetite.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Samir's Journey of Life −7

And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
-Bible (NewTestament); Revelation 21:21

All the blog posts I write this month are going to be on my street experiences.
There are many bouts I go thru in life, one such bout these days is the desire to have an experience of street life (not literally).  I think this desire probably is the result of  APY - last Saturday, some of us went to the old town for the photo shoot.  We explored the area surrounding Bhadra Kali Fort and Bhatiyar Galli.  It was an amazing experience.  The energy and movement around awed me. Not just the people, but the cars, buses, rickshaws, mopeds, bicycles, cows, dogs. All of these things conspired to give the environment a chaotic and anarchic feel that amazed me, not that I am new to this place but its been a long time since I’ve had the street level experience.  The apparently chaotic place, when closely looked at, was very well organized.  Vendors intensely negotiating and selling ‘Katrina’ brand of lingerie and ‘Ladrina’ brand of cosmetics!  It was all very colorful and vibrant.
Zipping traffic at Bhadra Fort (will soon be a history)

Aggressive marketing (order within chaos)
Colourful Katrina
Lustrous Ladrina

From there we ventured in to the much talked about ‘Bhatiyar galli’.  Just before we entered the ‘galli’ we noticed a series of ‘perfum’ (e- is missing) kiosks.  They had strange collection of perfumes 'Sandol', ‘Drax’, ‘You & Me’, ‘My love’ types.  Unfortunately, I missed trying out some of them, as I was too pre-occupied in taking pictures.  We entered the (in)famous eating joint and very honestly, we were thoroughly disappointed.  Not that we expected great hygiene conditions but what we saw even lacked basic cleanliness and hygiene.  We lost all the appetite after having roamed around the street full of filth and stink of rotten fish or flesh.  We got some food packed and I must tell you, what we had was a surest route to get pancreatitis (if one consumes 3 days in a row) not to mention other gastronomic complications (or probably the regulars must be having Teflon quoted stomach lining...)

Gastronomic nightmare!
My desire to have a feel of street experience did not fizzle out – on the contrary it became stronger.  I decided to go for a roadside barbershop for a shave.  I wanted to go to one of the types with a mirror hanging on the compound wall or they ask you to hold the mirror and a high wooden chair (one often finds such barbershops around the city).  I had always noticed one such shop opposite my office, so here I go, I parked and looked at it closely, tried to muster courage to go and sit on the chair – but I couldn’t (I had all sorts of thought processes, what would the adjoining tea vendor think, what if my colleagues pass by etc).  Eventually I ended up in some obscure place in Mithalkali village.  The shop had a colorful board ‘Monopol Jents Salun and Beauty Parlur’.   The shop was not more than 4.5 feet wide by 7 feet deep.  It had two chairs and two mirrors, around which there were plastic flowers and lots of photographs of Bollywood heroes stuck (on the wall opposite the mirrors) and neatly stacked gadgets as well as many bottles, tubes of weird brands of cosmetics (probably of the similar types I saw at Bhadrakali fort).  It appeared that I was the first customer of the day.   The moment I sat in the chair, my ‘hair stylist’ took out a packet of ‘budhalal’ tobacco and some lime paste, rubbed it in his palm and shoved the mixture in his mouth and without washing his hands – he held my face and gave a detailed look.  By that time I had closed my eyes, sank in my chair with some palpitation and stated praying ‘god …please protect me from allergy or infection…please’.  After the job was done, I opened my eyes and was a happy customer (really? I wonder).  Since then, I have been closely monitoring my face – looking for some signs of allergy.  So far, I am spared.  And hence my endeavor with street experience continues…
OK hair dresser!
By the way….
Day before, I got a small dental surgery, partial tooth extraction.  I believe that all dentists have a peculiar habit of talking while they maneuver a large drill in the mouth and they expect the patient to converse during the procedure!  Following is the conversation we had, about 10 minutes after the surgery started (I am pretty sure that you all must have had a similar experience):
Dr:  Now…let me assure you that this will not hurt at all (a blatant lie)…
me: (while it was hurting very badly and I was profusely bleeding) …uh… hug… oogaulps…!!!
Dr:  I told you, every thing is going to be al right, you were needlessly fearing
me: @#...ou…grrrrr….dolp..dolp…
Dr:  What do you think of this babri masjid judgment?
me:  $$&***@##...eah…aehaa…ughhe…umm…shi…ugh ugh…glop…(all I was saying was:   damn…finish of the work fast and let me get out of here)
Dr: (what ever she understood of my talk) ummm, I thought as much, even I have the same view!!!!
And such meaningless conversation went on for next 23 minutes.  Some body please tell me that is it part of the training of dentist that they make their patients (read: victims) talk while they shove the deadliest of the gadgets in the mouth?

See you after 10 days with more street experiences