Don’t we all go into a flurry when we have out-of-town guests coming over. What will they eat… we wonder. What’s the best we can do? And for the visitors – if they are close, a list ensues from us – don’t forget to get me the famous sweet from there. For our part, from Mumbai, don’t we carry Alphonso mangoes to Delhi in the mango season and faithfully carry Mishti Doi when we return from Kolkata? Aren’t we reprimanded if we go to Rajasthan and haven’t partaken of Daal Baati? Why did you even go there, people tend to ask. And you look shamefacedly down, observe your toes keenly while you mumble excuses of how there was not enough time.
Going to any place in India and coming back without smacking your lips on the local delicacies is in one contemporary word: #FAIL.
I did my fellow Indians no disservice. Every local delicacy was partaken of, as a group or singly, every dhaba (roadside eatery) enthusiastically patronized, every wayside chaiwallah was given a boost in his daily income. As SG put it, we did great service to the local economy and one of the ways was through the eateries.
So we land in Jammu. Rajmah Chaawal (Kidney beans and Rice) must be had. The first opportunity we got was at the langar (kitchens) at the one of the temples. Simple wholesome Rajma and rice. The deliciousness of simple food cooked with the love of the locals is hard to beat. Our holiday had begun. The taste buds were already dancing!
Once we had the entire group sipping, what I was told, really good tea, he proceeded to make my coffee. The tea vessel was perfunctorily rinsed. He pumped the kerosenes stove and put some water and milk to boil. Then added a handful of sugar (yes hand full – no spoon!). It was also a handful because I had told him I didn’t want it very sweet. I guess it would have been several fistfuls if I had not told him that. Then he added whatever coffee powder was in the pack. In my mind, very little. But it was cold and I wanted to have what I convinced myself would be coffee. It was. Somewhat. The final boiling hot brew that was handed over to me tasted of tea, kerosene, sugar, milk and coffee, in that order and in descending order of prominence. Oh well… this is too far north to expect good coffee, I thought, while I gently kicked myself for not carrying my travel kettle with me.
I missed my travel kettle throughout my trip. Good coffee and the North of India do not get along very well. Not only that, even in the hotels, the sachets of coffee are the worst of MYFIRSTCOFFEE by Nescafe which to my mind is a sad apology for coffee and should be banned from the market. Or should be arrested for masquerading as coffee. But never mind, I am wiser now. And I will never abandon my coffee dreams.
As we came down to Katra, the market treated us to a Spice Fest! Katra revels in the richness of its offerings of nuts, dry fruits, aromatic spices and of course walnuts!
For those Indians who practise austerity on a holiday, let it be known that the food that we ate was mostly cooked in pure ghee with truly generous dollops of butter put in for good measure. If our clothes got tighter, it was probably because the fabric had shrunk – or contracted in the cold!
To say that we were ready to burst would be embarrassing. The poor cycle rickshaw driver, I am sure, found it more difficult to pedal back than when we got there first. Ah well. No excuses. A holiday is a holiday and will be celebrated with food.
You can’t go to the Golden Temple and not eat there. The food served with love and devotion and a serene sense of service is the best ever. Simple dal, beans, kheer and roti were on the menu of the day. You take only as much as you can eat and you don’t waste a morsel. The simple food tastes delicious. But that’s because it is prepared with love, served with devotion and accepted wtih humility.
My gastronomical holiday was so over!
The story continues here
Did you miss the earlier posts?