Roll over…

You would all agree that for people like us, memories that have anything to do with food are often more vivid than any other. That probably explains the length of this post. It wasn’t meant to be this long but the memories just kept getting sharper and more detailed as I went along and I didn’t know what to omit. It is more of an experience than any review or such but hey, this is a food blog. So I was saying, food memories…being a Bengali, I consciously take an edge in these matters and since the experience I am about to narrate has a strong Bengali connection, even more so.

I was in Delhi last year for Durga Puja. And like all ‘probashi bangalis’, we too did not want to be left behind in our quest to wring out every last drop of the Kolkata pujo feel from our ‘awbangali’ milieu.

It was ashtami night, considered one of the busiest times to go pandal hopping. I’ve always wondered, with only three nights of pujo in the entire year, how can any be busier or busiest? People stepping out on saptami would think ‘ah it’s just the first day…others will go tomorrow or day after…there won’t be a crowd…and we’ll get the freshest food…’ On ashtami, people would think ‘oh tomorrow’s the last day… there will be a huge crowd, if we gotta visit, it has to be today…plus by now we’ll know which food stalls are hits…’ And on navami, people would think ‘since we have been busy (read lazy) yesterday and day before, we don’t have much of a choice…but there’ll be such a huge crowd…my god…hey hold hands while walking…there’ll be too much of shoving and pushing…and we’ll get bad food…oh they’ll fry those mughlai parathas in three day old oil…that too burnt…oh god.’ But I tell you what, it’s all in the head. The number of people belonging to categories ‘saptami’, ‘ashtami’ and ‘navami’ is equal. However what they say about the food is kinda right. The cribbing though lasts as long as the aromas of these fried delights don’t hit the nose. Not strangely, more people throng food stalls than the deity. ‘Arey god’s the same in all pandals… but I’ve heard the rolls here are better than last time…we must try.’

Anyway, without further description, I will proceed with our little food incident that happened on the ‘crowd-wise safe’ ashtami night. We left late – just ma, baba, grandma and me. Minto Road and New Delhi Kali Baadi were our only destinations. Dinner would obviously be had at one (or more) of the many stalls at both. When we reached New Delhi Kali Baadi, the first disappointment hit us. The road outside the temple that used to be packed with food stalls with the most ridiculous spellings of ‘birayni’ and ‘roles’ was starkly empty – (over-hyped) security reasons, they said. Surprising how a harmless mob merely busy satiating their souls and stomachs can cause any sort of nuisance save some scattered tissue papers and cheap plastic cups that will shamelessly be reused. But thankfully before it caused me any further pain, a whiff of something caught my nose. Couldn’t care less what it was, as the smell blared ‘FRIED FOOD’ in my ears. That was sufficient to add a spring to my step and the rest of the distance to the pandal was covered in a dream of digging my teeth into chunky mutton rolls and fish fry in a matter of minutes. Might be sacrilege to most, having non-vegetarian products being served within a temple’s premises, but it is a must-have for us during pujo. Pandals without this will be branded a failure. But such cases are not only rare, they are absent, because such pandals do NOT exist. So after less than 3 minutes inside the pandal, performing the perfunctory darshan, we were headed you know where. Second disappointment now – no mutton rolls or fish fries or biryani. Ok, we found one place that survived without the obvious. All we found were some shriveled vegetable chops that they were refrying. Leftovers from what – last year? My olfactory senses had misled me. Or probably my mind grew a nose of its own – dreaming up mutton rolls and the like out of THIS. With my heart sunk beneath my feet, ma tried to cheer me up by reminding me some foul ice cream memory of the previous year at the same pandal. They had taken the dessert a bit too literally and had probably mixed chunks of ice with sweetened flavoured cream of some sort. This place isn’t really that good for food, she said. You’ll be better off at Minto Road. The wounded soldier rose. And off we were.

I am ashamed to admit that when we reached Minto Road, my eyes, nose and ears searched first for the food stalls. The deity came later. You can imagine the relief when I spotted a limp greasy banner with the words I could have given anything to read – MUTTON ROLLS AND BIRYANI – beckoning to me like an oasis to a parched camel. With my heart back in place but laden with guilt, I prayed to the deity and asked for forgiveness for rating food over her. I was soon to find out whether she forgave me.

Elbowing our way through the crowd that I missed noticing in my search for the stalls, we found ourselves stuck less than halfway through. It would have been impossible to reach any of the stalls serving what I wanted in less than an hour. And I did NOT want the soggy papdi chaats that the bored owners were not even trying to sell at their stalls. What added to my agony were the people crossing us with their hands and mouths circled comfortably around those sumptuous rolls of fried dough, spiced meat, lemony onions and hot chutney – the sight and the smell competing with each other to flirt with me and both winning. My disappointment was almost child-like and the people who had brought me up and were there with me understood exactly what I felt. Waiting for our turn was out of question. The only other option was to snatch one of those rolls from whoever’s hands. But however much I wanted to, I could not bring myself to carry out this act of barbarism in the house of the goddess. I figured she had not forgiven me yet.

Not being able to eat anything at a puja pandal was the worst nightmare ever and tonight it had come true. With feet, knees, legs made of lead, I made my way out with comforting words from my family. Oh, and it was almost 11:30, so the option of eating at a restaurant was pretty much out. But since that was our only chance at getting dinner that night so we had to give it a shot. We went to Gol Market in Connaught Place, which was the closest to Minto Road. As we reached the place, we saw Nathu Sweets, the last to shut there, pulling their shutters in front of our eyes. We didn’t even have to stop the car. Ma baba got bouncing off and striking out options. Don’t even remember the names of the roads but there was this particular one we took where a restaurant served good food that baba had heard about. We slowed down, rather, we had to, because of the crazy number of cars that seemed to suddenly spring out from the road, all headed towards the very same restaurant. There still are hungry people to be found in Delhi at that hour. Good to know. Anyway, a small board caught my eye and I read Gujrati / Rajasthani thalis. I told my folks what I read and we exchanged glances. Beggars can’t be choosers but we begged to differ. If we’ve thought of eating meats, hell, that’s what we’ll do. And this place certainly would take generations to convert. In all probability, it never will. Then suddenly, like a brainwave, ma suggested Colonel’s Kebabs in Defence Colony, about 20 minutes from where we were. I’ve never seen my father driving at that speed. Hah! The things your stomach makes you do. But none of us complained… obviously. On the way, we also crossed Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium that had witnessed the closing ceremony of the CWG the previous day. We expected to see some lights still on but guess they probably thought enough had been wasted already. Baba slowed down a bit for me to try and see some structure or something through a crack in the boards lined along the Jawahar Lal Nehru flyover. He almost started explaining and realized who was he kidding and hit the accelerator and within no time we pulled up outside Colonel’s Kebabs.

My sleeping stomach woke up like a dragon at the first whiff of smoking kebabs and spicy curries. It was dark and I wondered if it was the residual fragrance of a long evening of delectable roasting. For those of you who have not been to Colonel’s Kebabs in Def Col, it is not really a restaurant. It’s a take away joint and there is no entry door. It’s along an inside road of the famous Def Col market. So the only proof that it’s still open is if you spot glowing pieces of charcoal in the grill and meats of all sorts roasting on spits and skewers, which was hard to see sitting in the car. I could only see a few people clearing up a bit. Baba dashed out of the car and was out of sight within moments. But after a painful two minutes, during which a parking attendant tore us a ticket (earning money for his dinner…no, he mustn’t have waited that long to have his dinner like us…maybe breakfast), baba came back in sight. As soon as he realized he had caught our attention, he walked towards us beaming, with both his hands in a gesture of victory, with a flimsy yellow piece of paper fluttering in one of them. It was the menu. We were going to get dinner…

Before I could read the dishes listed, baba ma suggested we go for the chicken reshmi tikkas that they had tried earlier and had loved. And roomali rotis and some spicy chicken curry – forgot the name but it sounded superlatively Mughlai. 30 seconds after he came, he left to place the order. Now was the time to read the menu at peace, imagining and savouring each printed word preparing my stomach for what was to come. The food came in decent time and I was entrusted with the job of holding the piping hot foil packets of tikkas, rotis and curry sitting snugly in a paper bag. Hah! You think that was good enough to stop the fragrance from oozing out? Even if it was, the state we were in, we were capable of smelling out food buried 10 feet under the ground. And so we headed back home, the fragrance from those packets overpowering all the Guccis, Bosses and Ambipures that the car was smelling of earlier. Baba challenged his speed on our way back home. Ma felt sorry for me and said why don’t you start eating in the car itself? I challenged my will power and gulping down copious amounts of drool, said no, I’ll wait.

With the not so distant dream sitting at the dinner table with mouthfuls of steaming chunks of juicy chicken reshmi tikkas and small packets of roomali rotis wrapped around spicy pieces of chicken dripping with golden yellow gravy I closed my eyes with a smile. The goddess had forgiven me…

The Nizam from New Market…

So why is this about New Market and Nizams? Because this one is about wafting memories that have since floated down  from the legendary open market in Kolkata, right down to the suburbaness that is Andheri West. This one is about the memory of singing along with Shahrukh in his Main Koi Aisa Geet Gaoon, from the much overlooked Yes Boss from a matinee at Roxy to move towards the back alleys of New Market to the food mandala that resides there. Ah yes – fresh out of Elite, guiltily enjoying the tackiness of one of the foremost creature films that hit India : Anaconda – The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (oh yes, I liked it! I am man enough in admitting it! ), and then moving almost in default – to that institution called Nizams. The rolls – the heavenly rolls. The porotha , yielded by flour, fried lovingly in oil, splattered with the fried chillies, onion and other madness, filled with red juicy nuggets of mutton cubes- tossed in marinade of a hundred recipes, and then garnised with lemon squeeze and sauces. Served hot! Or the biriyani – mutton biriyani! Grains of basmati – glittering in saffron-yellow sunshine, bristling lightly in ghee (not too much), married with a plethora of spices, adorned with a piece of potato and the egg and then  digging deep and you find those chunks of lamb – tender and sumptious… all served with the lemon wedges, slit chillies and onion rings (although given the current scenario, the onion may be a disappearing number). Ah yes – Nizaams biriyanis and rolls, served in the New Market Mohalla , in a the communal table or the curtained private ‘femily room‘ – depending on if you are with your fresh love of school (‘female party’ as uttered by the liveried waiters) or your gang of dudes from your neighbourhood! Good times of Kolkata!

This post is not about Nizams. Or New Market. But its about rediscovering rolls and Kolkata style biriyani in the town of Andheri West, in Mumbai.

A few years back, when my mind and pallette was suffering from withdrawal pangs of how the Kolkata roll was diminished by the hugely overhyped (and may I add grossly inferior) Frankie in Mumbai nagariya, Rahul and another ex- colleague of mine from STAR, Sayan – told me about this cart joint called Bhimas in Andheri West, that apparently served up rolls Kolkata style.

 ‘Go for it – Almost like Kolkata rolls’ Sayan said

‘You dont have to speak much modon, this guy just hands out the stuff. No chitchatting.  Its more of the silent strong treatment type. Do your business and leave ‘ said Rahul! (I had this overwhelming feeling that I was a dog being trained!!)

‘Where exactly is it?’ I asked salivating

‘ Its close to the Andheri gurudwara…” said Rahul and Sayan in chorus, knowing fully well that I am a newbie in Mumbai and would have no clue where this aforementioned gurudwara would be.

( And then Rahul went back to ragging me, the lowly management trainee I was then!… Good times! ) 

Fresh in Mumbai then, and goaded by the promise of a Kolkata Nizaam reverie, I had gallivanted to the haven to taste the delight. Let it be known now, it was ok- decent, given that nothing of the sorts existed in Mumbai anywhere else. I happily gorged on a few and there in hangs a tale!

Now , its been 4 years in Mumbai and I have shifted base in Andheri West from Santacruz. One sultry evening, while passing down Oshiwara, I noticed this non descript road-side stall ambitiously titled Kolkata Konnection. The Karan Johar nomenclature form aside, it drew my heart strings! Could it be a roll shop which borrows more from the city rather than just a name? I explored.

” They say you will forget Shiraz and Nizaam rolls after you have ours”, ambitously proclaimed the owner (incidentally he is not a Bengali). I tried it, and from therein lies the basis of this post.

Kolkata Konnection is truly a slice of life Kolkata rolls. Made in the same style as I have grown up seeing in Babughat, Park Street , Lindsay or any of those nook and corners of Kolkata,  there arrived the white paper wrapped Indian tortilla, stuffed generously with irregular cubes of juicy chunky meat, with sauteed onions and chillies, smacked with sauces. There is also, I suspect, a dash of chat masala along with the mandatory lemon squeeze. Freshly from the tawa, it was handed to me , a beckoning of sorts to bite into a promise. So I did! It was – well- Kolkata taste buds all over again. Not the Nizaam fare, not the Shiraaz fare, but still pretty darn good… I am a person who believes in excess, so I had ordered the double egg mutton roll. Loved every lip smacking part of it!

I succumbed. Kolkata Konnection had me hooked and now a challenge was thrown to taste more. Quickly scrolling down their one pager pamphlet menu, revealed all kinds of chop-cutlets, biriyanis, gravy accompaniments, and surprise of surprises – Moghlai Porotha. I decided that the biriyani should  be put to test.

A word on Mumbai biriyanis. So this rice artifice that goes by the misnomer of biriyani in Mumbai is not – lets face it – what it should be. Any self respecting fellow who has tasted the real fare in Shiraz or in Dilli Darbar will know what the Lucknowi Biriyani is all about. Its not a pulao wearing multi coloured hues, not adorned with paraphernalia like dry fruits and doesnt have a dump of masala with the meat safely ensconced in the bottom. And the biggest piece of deceit – they dont have the aloo! No siree – that aint biriyani the way its meant to be! Its just not cricket!

But here I was, suitably encouraged with the gastronomical delight that was the roll, so the mutton biriyani was the call. Five hungry minutes later, there came the dish laden with the good stuff. A generous mound of rice, smelling divine, with the all important aloo peeking through. The smell itself was sign enough. I jumped into it with unabashed glee. The rice was soft and had absorbed the masala very well, the saffron aroma wafted through in every mouthful, the aloo was perfectly boiled and the mutton – wallahh! not hard at all, not too soft that it loses its texture too soon for you not to enjoy its juices- just perfect! It wasnt too spicy, the flavours of the rice and the meat and the marinade worked together to create this drowning feeling of sumptiousness that was this biriyani. Well done- the battle was won! I was advised by the now-over zealous owner to try it with the Rezala. I did, on a later visit – but that’s another story. Suffice to say, the biriyani in itself was a triumph!

So thats the story about Kolkata Konnection. I have a special account in my name in their home delivery clientele, I also get an extra aloo by special request. So that’s Kolkata Konnection – my walk back to the Nizam and the Shiraz days, to New Market backyard, to ultimatelu a delicous memory. To the good things of life!

Prithvi

PS: I also tried their Moghlai Parotha. Not the best, but will do! There is also Hyanglas in Lokhandwala that serves all of the above. Much has already been spoken about it. While it was good when it first launched, its now slowly on its descent. And their home delivery sucks! (And then it sucks some more!)

Places for Birthday Treats in Gurgaon

I must confess that its a task to figure out places to give treats, everyone is up for a free lunch specially in my team, there are a couple of places in Gurgaon that I would like to call food-joints-esentially-for-treats.

Starting from a name that’s really ALL-THAT-YOU-CAN-EAT experience is Barbeque Nation, its the one stop shop for both veggies as well as non-veggies. But its slightly over exposed over the year [was my find :)] infact, not only have I visited it on ‘official’ purposes but also for personal, my husband freaked out when we went there for dinner, he’s a hard core Kabab Factory Fan. Barbeque Nation is located in Sushant Lok if I may say walking distance from
IFFCO chowk metro station. For a lunch buffet with limited choice of 3/4 snacks its Rs350 per head with beer, soft drinks are extra.

The other one that we went recently to was ‘THE CHOWK’ it’s all you can eat in a different way,it’s basically not for an evolved audience but for people who would like to EAT read hog there. I didn’t find variety but the boys hogged on the two non-veg dishes one of chicken and another mutton with unlimited hot rotis that made the experience atleast, worth while, it was I guess Rs250 per person. Slightly boring for vegetarians with same roti , dal, sabji that you could eat anywhere. What I like about ‘The Chowk’ is that has innovative and bright interiors, its located in MGF.

Another gem of all you can eat for veggie fair is ‘ Rajdhani’ I find it disappointing ,as most people I know are veggies and I do eat my share of veg at home also, so not my choice but ya, its good, located in MGF again.Not so fancy fair but totally veg options, good on pocket are Haldirams and Bikanervala, I have  cravings for chaat, so I don’t mind that too much.

Another place that is not really heavy on the pocket but I  like the food is ‘The Red Hot Cafe’, Thai and Chinese here are good, as per the Indian palette, I really like their spring rolls, you can actually ask them not to fry, so it has a thin outer crust and succulent on the inside and their Pad Thai is good too.

Sushiya, if you like Japanese, now that’s a tough choice for most Indians as Sushi per say is not fulfilling read fills but doesn’t satisfy 🙂 .Their ala carte menu is expensive if you give people a free hand at choosing what they want to eat then you’ve had it but if you are ordering in then Sushi Platters come in alot of variants and Satays are a good option too. You could tie this up Red Hot Cafe and order the good ol’ noodles and manchurien. Can be ordered online as well as on call, I had heard about a restaurant that they had opened in Cyber Greens.

For Italian, Mrs Kaur’s at Sec 30 is a good option, I had gone there for a Saturday lunch from work, now this what I’d like to call Punjabi-Italian, not the right place for people who like to eat roti, sabhji. But veggie selection is good too, their open sandwiches , brownies and spaghetti with meatballs are something I would like to recommend. The service and the delivery is slow so keep ample time before your order.

Last but not the least is the King of all food, ‘Nizam’s Kathi Kebab’ one kebab fills up a normal guy and women usually share 1 into 2 style ;), but apart from the standard kebabs I really like their Keema-Pao, that’s for starters, apart form that everything else is avoidable. Don’t forget to order an aerated drink as the oil kebab really fills you up.

Statuary warning-
This is definitely not an exhaustive list but a list that I usually follow for treats and Saturday lunches. This list is also limited to the vicinity where I work. Let me know what you think about this? In my next list I’d write about the uber cool, slightly expensive but some places that I really really like.