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Tried and tasted

Across the country, culinary tours are linking culture, cuisine and heritage, bringing down barriers and breaking stereotypes

Madhusree Ghosh

In India, where every city and town has a different food culture, food walks have become an increasingly popular part of the tourism
culture.

Opium in tea?

The food walk organised by IG Bhopal Photography, combines food, culture, history — and photography.

“The city has a wonderful mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, because of the heavy influence of Marwaris and Jains,” says Mudra Keswani, a food blogger under the name of The Super Chatori, who usually conducts this walk.

In old Bhopal, the walk starts at the Taj-ul-Masjid, the country’s largest mosque. At Mamaji Jalebi Wala, walkers try the uniquely Bhopali breakfast of jalebi-poha, eaten together for a delicious mix of sweet and salty.

Next is Chowk Bazar for street-side chaat. “One dish we tell our non-vegetarian guests to not miss is the Bhopali chicken rezala, made with coriander and a lot of fried onion and garlic. The recipe came from the Begums’ kitchens and is a dish unique to this city,” says Keswani. They also stop over for sulemani tea from Raju Tea Stall. “The tea is thick, a little bit salty and there’s a rumour that it is so addictive because it has a little opium in it,” adds Keswani. There are also stopovers at places like Sonu Monu Ke Namkeen, which serves authentic mawa baati.

Drink like a freedom fighter

Beyond kathi rolls and kosha mangsho, there is a hidden world of culinary gems in Kolkata. Much of this food and its history dates back to Kolkata’s history as a colonial trading hub. The Portuguese, British, Armenians and Dutch have all had their influence. “We start at Shyambazaar, where a lot of the food is vegetarian,” says Suddhabrata Deb of It’s in Asia, who conducts the Hungry Roads walk.

The walk then heads to College Street for cutlets at Dilkhusha Cabin — and a brief talk on why so many old eateries had the word ‘Cabin’ in their name. “Even about 70 years ago, eating chicken was considered a sin among Bengali Hindus. Mutton was part of ritual sacrifices, so it was even considered a form of prasad; it was cooked without onion and garlic. Eating chicken was a strange idea, brought over by the British. So the restaurants that served it covered the doorway in curtains,” says Deb. The curtain, and the word cabin, soon became a signal to diners that chicken was available within.

At the 101-year-old Paramount Cold Drinks & Syrups, walkers are told the story of how — to combat the British tea culture — the legendary chemist and industrialist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray invented the popular ‘daaber sharbat’, a juice made with tender coconut water whose formula is still a closely guarded secret.

A few paces on is Favourite Cabin, believed to be Kolkata’s oldest existing tea shop. It was at this 101-year-old establishment that Masterda Surya Sen, the teacher turned rebel leader, planned for the freedom struggle with his compatriots, escaping by a back door when the British came looking.

From Romans to Arabs in Madurai

Romans, Arabs, Saurashtrians and Indian deities — these four themes meet in the Storytrails culinary walk in Madurai. “We walk through the bylanes of old Madurai, starting near the Meenakshi Amman temple,” says Swarnaprada Jayaraj, regional head of Storytrails.

Along the way, guests sample dishes from restaurants and street vendors as Jayaraj tells tales seeped in history. There’s the iconic Murugan Idli Shop famous for its mallipoo idli, known to be ‘as soft as a jasmine blossom.’

Next comes jigarthanda (literally, ‘a drink that cools your heart’), at a shop called Famous Jigarthanda. “They say the Arab traders who came to Madurai for business wanted a drink that resembled their faluda and had a cooling effect. Jigarthanda was made for them with sugar, almond gum, sarsaparilla root syrup and ice-cream,” Jayaraj says.

Also on the menu, a dish that the Saurashtrian traders brought to Madurai in the 16th century. Made from deep-fried spinach, it became the keerai vadai and remains a Madurai specialty.

Colonial cookies, Lauki laddoos

The food walk by Been There Doon That in Dehradun starts at Dehradun’s oldest market, Paltan Bazaar. The first dish to be sampled is the green and distinctly Dehraduni lauki ka laddoo at Kumar Sweets, whose family is originally from Rawalpindi in Pakistan. They then proceed to Chaatwali Gully, familiar from the many times it has featured in stories by Doon’s much-loved resident author, Ruskin Bond.

Next is one of the oldest bakeries in the city, Sunrise Bakers, whose pista cookies are legendary. They then move on to the katlamba, originally from Pakistan and a special delicacy in Dehradun. These are thick, large, deep-fried and multi-layered puris served with dry chhole and a fermented carrot pickle.

Chetan Puriwala is the next destination where people eat aatte ke laddu, a traditional sweet made with wheat, jaggery and dry fruit. The walk ends with bolti bandh paan.

An Afghan food walk in Delhi

The words Delhi food call to mind images of juicy kebabs, parathas drenched in butter, and chaat. But, in Bhogal, in the heart of South Delhi, lies a slice of Afghanistan. These Afghans settled in Delhi in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“The Afghan walk happens on request and most requests come from locals,” says Anubhav Sapra, founder of Delhi Food Walks.

The walk starts with tandoor shops known as nanwais, which make delicious Afghan breads. “Their tandoors look different, more like pizza ovens, and the breads are stuck on the outer walls, says Sen.” Among the most popular varieties is a sweet, crusty, khajuri nan shaped like a date.

The next stop is at a shop selling bolani, a rectangular variant of alu paratha. You can also try the sambosa here, a variant of the samosa, but which is square and filled with meat. The tour highlight is Afghanistan’s national dish, the Kabuli pilav (made with Basmati rice, carrots and dry fruit) and a dish called mantu, which look like momos but come topped with chaana and served with a very sour yoghurt.

The tour ends with a plate of sheer takh, a type of Afghani ice cream made with thickened buffalo milk or condensed milk and a saffron flavour, similar to kulfi but much richer.

A biryani without rice

If you’re a meat lover, visiting Mumbai, then Khaki Tours’ Mohalla Munch is the food walk for you. It goes through Bhendi Bazaar, one of the oldest Muslim areas in the city.

The food of this area comes from the Bohri, Khoja and Konkani Muslim traditions. In the Bohri meals, courses alternate between khara (spicy / salty) and meetha (sweet). “We have about 15 pitstops, which include special kebabs with coriander seeds and a chana curry laced with spleen!” says founder of Khaki Tours, Bharat Gothoskar.

Most people are intrigued by the Baara Handi (12 Pots) restaurant, where different parts of the goat or buffalo are cooked in 12 different pots, and a serving is made up of a mix of the 12 in whatever combinations you choose. Some people prefer bhel, a delightful combination of all 12.

The walk also stops at the century-old Firoze Farsan, which serves a biryani without rice called patrel biryani — colocasia leaves or patrel, coated in a paste made of gram flour and assorted spices, rolled up and slow-cooked. The masala-flecked meat is cooked separately. Once it’s ready, the colocasia is added to the meat.

The stories that go with the food serve as the perfect tadka, says Gothoskar. “We show walkers Temkar Mohalla, where [underworld don] Dawood Ibrahim was born. And Raudat Tahera, the mausoleum of the Syednas, the spiritual head of the Bohri
community.”

A favourite food is the Sancha ice-cream. “The sancha is a type of cast — a wooden bucket on the outside and metal container inside. Salt and ice is put in the outer container to freeze a mixture of milk and fruits in the inner container to make a very unusual kind
of ice-cream.”

Also popular is the chicken kasturi sandwich at Jilani’s, named for the kasuri methi that gives it a light-bitter aftertaste. The walk generally ends at India restaurant, which sells shallow-fried Karachi rolls.

A D-I-Y approach in Mysuru

“Food is the greatest way to break the ice between strangers,” says founder, Gully Tours, Vinay Parameswarappa. “Our tour involves cooking the food too.”

There are now about 25 homemakers across the city who teach the walkers what locals eat. “We take guests to the market to help them learn to recognise ingredients, select, and buy them. Then we go to one of the houses to make the meal,” Parameswarappa says. A three-course meal includes kosambari salad, made with moong dal, cucumber, fresh coconut and coriander leaves; Mysore masala dosa, with a red chutney; and kesari bhaat, a saffron-flavoured dish made with sooji.                                

                                                      (HT Media)

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