Eat your heart out!

This is a guest post by my sister Padmini Natarajan who is a regular contributor to and a professional writer. Her articles appear in many magazines in Chennai and she has co-authored/edited a few books that have won acclaim and awards.

This piece is all about the special foods in various parts of our diverse country. At least for me, reading it was a nostalgia trip. I hope that all those who read this get as much enjoyment as I did reading it.

Frankly all this Globalization has taken the charm out of eating! There used to be a time when you looked forward to travelling to new places to taste the food that was special to that place.

If it was Chennai it was Idli, Vadai, Sambhar, Dosai and Chutney and Pongal, Puli saadam and that ambrosia—Curd Rice. Tirunelveli halwa and payasam brought up the sweet menu.

Kerala dished out aapam and stew both vegetable and fish and the rich coconut oil flavoured Nendranga chips and the Jackfruit varieties and the adai pradamam. The vella payasam made up of rice, gur, coconut and spices and dripping with ghee served in temples was unmatched.

Delhi was the place for Tandoori roti, chaat, Paneer dishes, sarson ka saag in winter with makkai ki roti—not to forget the sharp taste of the radish, white mooli and tender cucumbers sold by vendors with baskets full of fresh stuff harvested from the Yamuna river bed and served with a dash of pepper and salt and maybe a hint of kaala namak. Sweets bought in Bengali market, the dry spell in the summer when no milk based sweets were sold and the delicious taste of the moti choor ke laddu, gajjar ka halwa and Mathura ka Peda and Karol Bagh’s Kulfi and huge glasses of Lassi.

Calcutta meant rosogollas in earthen pots from KC Das and hot, hot singadas. Mishti doi from the corner doodhwala and a plate full rainbow coloured sweets like kaala jamuns, chum chums, malai channa and mishtis. Chocolates from Flurrys was a treat and the chana garam and kulfi at Victoria Memorial and pink candy floss in the Zoo were out of this world.

Bombay meant Bhel Puri, Paani Puri, Dahi Batata Puri, Vada Paav and ‘cutlees and sandich’ eaten on the streets, in little cubbyholes called restaurants or in famous joints all hade a unique taste. Thali food in Purohit, Thakur or in lately-come –Johnny places like Kamats was a treat for a hungry shopper or sightseer. Bombay Halwa from Chandu Halwai, Mohenthal and Jilebis, Phirni from Bhendi Bazaar and Alphonso mangoes in season was part of the branding of the city.

Indore ki Mithai Galli, Hyderabad ka Pulla Reddy, Bangalore’s Iyengar bakery, Lucknow ki Daseri and Mysore Pak were identified with the history of the cities.

A trip to London was a dip into Baked potatoes, Pies, Ploghman’s lunches, cucumber sandwiches, scones and crumpets, Trifles and Cheesecakes. Italy meant pasta and pizzas wafting aromas of Olive Oil and fresh herbs and gelatos. Paris was the place for Nouvelle Cuisine, Croissants and Baguettes, Cheese and Cold Cuts, gateauxs and sorbets. The States meant McDonalds, KFC, Apple Pie and Chowder. Singapore or Hong Kong—even for that matter China Town in Calcutta—was the place for Mien and Chow, Wontons and Chinese Soups, Toffeed Apples and Lichis and Chopsticks to eat food.

Today, every big city boasts of restaurants, hotels, caterers and cubby-hole eateries that serve anything from everywhere. Even Ethiopian food, Lebanese specialities and Egyptian platters have attacked the hungry consumer in every big city.

Fusion is in! Food traditions have been indigenised and you get Chicken Manchurian with Sambhar Podi in it, Paneer Pizza, Nachos as Dahi Vada and Chicken Tikka Burgers. I think the biggest grief is to have Pasta Biryani, Mince gol guppas and Mutton or mien filled dosas that scream of globalization in its worst avatar.

Soon I expect we will have mini Taj’s, Eiffel Towers and London Bridges in all cities to make the world a truly global entity. Then we wont need to take a plane—anyway with the airfares rocketing it is going to get more and more dearer—to ‘furrin’ parts to gawp at the seven,m eight, nine whatever wonders of the world. Disney is already miniaturising famous monuments in their theme parks all over the world and famous people are being re-waxed in Madame Tussauds in major cities.

No wonder people are hitting the trekking trail and opting for nature holiday or Safaris where you can go sightseeing and experience raw unexploited natural scenery! And the last resort is to turn up your nose and say, “Well darling! There is so much to eat, see and experience in India, why go elsewhere” and then get into your car and take off down the ECR Road, Mumbai Pune Highway, Delhi-Jaipur six way etc.

Bon appetite!

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