My recent trip to Sri Lanka was filled with food, people, culture, and lots of fun. And I snuck in a round of shopping for local ingredients too. I ate string hoppers, egg hoppers, crab, fish, prawn, lobster, watalapan, kiribath and so much more! I remember downing passion fruits like they were tequila shots.
Batate Saung / Potatoes in a fiery sauce
..well, as fiery as you want it to be. Batate saung traditionally is a Mangalorean dish. If I have to narrow it down further, it’s a Konkani dish. Konkani style fare is most sought after vegetarian food in Mangalore, as I remember it. That’s why grandma took on to making some of them at home regularly. Most of their dishes are light and relatively healthy. But this batate saung was something else. Fiery, sour and delicious. Using only onions, potato and a spice paste with chillies, coconut, coriander seeds and tamarind, this one takes just about 15-20 mins to make.
Tickets were booked in October for our trip home (both our homes – Mumbai, his and Bangalore, mine). We were a tad more excited about the Bangalore leg of our trip because it meant meeting our almost 10 month old niece. The plane kissed the Bangalore runway on a late and chilly night of 23rd December. I remember telling mum we wouldn’t be there for dinner, but I was already looking forward to breakfast.
The 90s take me back to Mangalore, where I spent most summer holidays. I also stayed there at granny’s place for 5 years to finish school and college. My favourite and my best years, of course. There was this petty shop in the neighbourhood where the owner, Vinayaka, treated his customers like family. Well, those were such times. There was this sense of belonging to a place, to its people and its food. That shop didn’t have a name. He said he’d have to pay extra taxes and rent if he got it commercialized (or something to that effect). He anyway sold things like newspaper, cigarettes, chocolates and other small things.
I live in the dusty city of Gurgaon. I don’t like the city, like many of those who move here for work from other parts of the country. What I do love – people I work with. That’s why whenever I get a chance to hop on a plane and go home to Bangalore, I make a big deal of it. Mom’s food, my dog – Cookie, dad’s stories, sister’s stories, and just nostalgia makes me warm and fuzzy.
This time the occasion was Diwali, or as for us South Indians, Deepavali. A week’s break and it had to be spent at home. I get home on a Saturday, just in time for lunch. What’s for lunch you ask?
Fish curry, of course. Spicy, tangy and coconut-y curry where plump sardines were swimming. OK, that was mean, but the curry was delicious. See what I did there?
Post lunch, I walked around near home because that’s what you do when the weather kicks all kinds of ass. I headed to Shoppers Stop to get myself a pair of running shoes. It’s not a good time to step into a mall or any large store for that matter, when it’s Diwali (shopping) season. I didn’t find shoes, but I found something better *evil grin*. Plates and pretty tea cups. Actually, the tea cups were gigantic. It’s almost a hybrid of coffee mugs and tea cups. Anyway, I walked back home.
The next day I took the bus and went to MG Road. I love how green it is right in the middle of the city over there. It’s great to walk around, especially when it’s drizzling. Did I tell you the weather was great. One of my favourite places for breakfast or any other meal in Bangalore is The Egg Factory. I absolutely love eggs and got myself a nice omlette and a hot chocolate. Sitting by the window, reading, and holding on to every minute that seemed to slip away with every bite and sip I took.
A trip to Chikamagalur was on the cards. My sister’s husband belongs to the place and his family lives there amidst their sprawling coffee and pepper plantations. We were invited to lunch and the menu included idiyappam, mutton curry, fried fish, chicken masala, poori, rasam, rice. We wandered around the estate and trust me, the air was so clean my lungs were definitely loving it.
I miss my dog immensely. Just look at her.
It was definitely sweater weather and boy, was it simply amazing. But it’s never not a good time for Corner House. I got myself their classic and my favourite, Hot Chocolate Fudge. Which by the way, is the best.
Before I left Bangalore, I had to have my share of *cough* beef *cough*. I hope nobody heard that. Anyway, I was loitering around the city as usual and was around Commercial Street. That’s when Peppa Zzing happened. Cozy little place, this one’s got the most delicious burgers. And there’s beef. Win-win! I got myself the Peppa Zzing Beef Burger. Service was quick and in a few minutes my face met the burger and I slapped on a big old grin like an idiot. I couldn’t be bothered about what was happening around me as I tucked myself into this burger which had caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, the juiciest and the most flavourful beef patty, in house mayo and a fried egg. There was a party in my mouth and no one else was invited.
Oh and I forgot to show you my running shoes. I did run. Look at all the food I demolished during my stay!
I rummaged through some old stuff at home, hoping to find something old and forgotten. And I did. Mom’s diary, recipe diary actually, from 1993. I found a few pages with my handwriting. Mom must’ve been dictating and I would’ve, like any food loving diligent child, made note of everything. The picture below has my mother’s notes though.
Lastly, I couldn’t leave the city without my favourite filter coffee. Got one straang cup from Maiyas.
I didn’t leave with a heavy heart or a sad face. I was glad to be home, but I also did look forward to coming back to Gurgaon to resume work and my routine. As much as you love going back to visit your family, the novelty wears off in a couple of days and you find yourself a tad restless and wanting to fly back to the nest you made and call it home. Rightly so.
The long weekend, thanks to Gandhi Jayanti, was spend in McLeod Ganj – a much needed and rightly deserved break. While it took my lungs a few minutes to get used to the clean(er) air, my eyes were getting used to the breathtaking view. I won’t get into details about the place and shall stick to what captured my heart (stomach, rather) – the food. Simplicity at its best and purest.
The day of arrival I walked around the alleys in search of my soul. Couldn’t find it, hence settled for breakfast – Momos stuffed with potatoes and spinach. These were almost like pot stickers. Almost. They weren’t the regular momos you’d get out here in the big cities. These were stuffed and steamed buns, then lined on a hot griddle for that nice char on each side. I’m clearly not good with descriptions, but I hope I was able to paint a mental picture. I don’t have a picture of it, unfortunately.
For lunch I did what the locals do – thukpa. The local restaurants are small, cozy and a joy. We ordered for a pork thukpa, a chicken one and chilli chicken on the cook’s recommendation. He then came back from the kitchen to tell us that there’s no meat, but only pork fat and would that be ok with us. We went ahead with it anyway. I forgot to mention that I was suffering from a cold and temperature. Thukpa was just what the doctor had ordered (or he wishes). I’m no good with adjectives either, so let me just stick with – holy smokes it was bloody good! The thukpa opened up my senses, nostrils in particular. Despite the cold I could tell the broth tasted great. So did the infamous pork fat. The chilli chicken was, well like chilli chicken. Plain good. I’d also got myself some hot lemon tea. It was so good I could hardly contain myself. It was like granny’s lemonade, but hot and with a hint of tea which came with the tea bag of course.
Post lunch I walked by this little kiosk of treats. I got 2 – a slice of baked yak cheese with coconut and cream, and a local chocolate and nuts bar. The yak cheese slice was moist and delicious. I call it the love child of a cheesecake and pound cake. It also came with a disclaimer that it wasn’t going to be as sweet as we thought. Which exactly was the case and yet oh-so-delicious. The chocolate and nut bar was just about alright. Chocolate and nuts. A short and very sweet love story, which I wasn’t too pleased to be a part of.
Continuing the quest for my soul, aka just good food, I found another little place called the Four Seasons Cafe. Food that definitely hit the spot here. We had a good old spinach and cheese omlette and a Chicken Soutsemen – which is a first for me. Pan fried noodles topped with oodles of gravy with vegetables and chicken. Definitely going to replicate this one at home.
In between some walking around and taking random pictures like a wannabe traveler, I got hungry again. Eyes wandered (so did I) and landed on Tibetan Kitchen. Got myself some steamed buns and sliced pork in pickle gravy. It was exactly that. Sliced pork in pickle gravy. It’s like they watered down some mango pickle (salivating as I write pickle) and put a few pork slices in there. No, I’m not complaining. It was sour and spicy – what’s not to like. Mopping up all the ‘pickle gravy’ with the pork bun, we walked back to the hotel.
On the way back I saw the same kiosk full of treats looking back at me. I gave in and got a couple of different treats this time – yak muffin and a local cookie (I don’t remember its name). The muffin was light, soft and had the slightest hint of cheese – assuming it’s from the yak. The cookie, thin coconut biscuit sandwich with jam, was forgettable – like its name.
For dinner I found this place which had a big poster of the show Highway on my plate at their entrance – looked like they gave the restaurant their stamp of approval. Alas, what a disappointment. Ordered the Tibetan Thali and pork chilli. Both were under seasoned and underwhelming. The thukpa was as if over cooked slices of vegetables were just put in hot water with some noodles. The pork chilli had no chilli and I don’t think the pork was happy being a part of that dish either.
The next morning I was up and shining along with the sun to get some breakfast, of course. I didn’t want to make it a morning trek to find a place and settled for a cafe close to the hotel. Carpe Diem Restaurant. Got ourselves a French and an English breakfast – just to make up for the less than impressive dinner the previous night. It was the usual suspect with the English breakfast – eggs, sausages, ham, bacon, the works. The French one came with eggs scrambled with peppers.
For lunch I picked yet another teeny-tiny-hole-in-the-wall kind of a restaurant called Yak. Best Chowmein ever. I don’t know what else to say. It was right in every way. We also got the fried mutton momos. I’d give it a pass the next time around. It’s double fried momos with a bland mutton stuffing. It was so crispy it turned hard and wasn’t pleasant to eat at all. But the Chowmein was bang on the money.
This was the last day here and we had a couple of hours to kill before leaving. I spotted this little cafe on the basement floor (if it’s called that) called Woeser Bakery that still has my heart. The most warm and welcoming owner makes you feel at ease as soon as you walk in. She’ll tell you that the cafe’s menu in on top (horizontal black board) and dessert samples are placed at the window. She advertised about her handmade cappuccino and that no one else in town does it. I quickly get one of those and a paradise bar, which is basically a biscuit base bar with a brown sugar caramel and coconut topping. The coffee was the best cappuccino I’ve ever had. Good strong coffee sweetened with brown sugar and I don’t know what else she does to it that makes it taste so damn good. The paradise bar was a tad too sweet for my liking. I then ordered the Tibetan butter tea. It was a revelation for sure. It was unlike any other tea I’ve ever had. Salty, buttery and comforting.
With a heavy heart and full belly, I left McLeod Ganj promising I’ll be back. But we both know about a tourist’s empty promises. If I were a traveller, she’d have understood.