A comprehensive guide to eating chaat in Lucknow

Log bohot chatore hote hain,” (people really love to eat chaat) overheard outside chaat shop. Aur Lucknow ke log to kuch zyada hi chatore hote hain (and people in Lucknow even more so). The chaat of this city turns you into one. I think the word chatore must have been coined in Lucknow seeing the love people have here for chaat. It comes from the word chaatna or licking cause you will definitely want to lick clean your plate of chaat, and it’s a socially acceptable practice. The evening plans in Lucknow are made around eating chaat. Shopping is fun here cause you can take a quick chaat break. As a kid my only reason to accompany my mother for shopping was a post shopping treat of pani ke batashe and hot aloo tikkis. For the uninitiated, chaat is sold mostly in the evenings so don’t come to Lucknow expecting to eat chaat in the middle of the day.

Dahi chutney ke batashe at Jain Chaat

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Phaltan – A weekend getaway in Maharashtra

Around 250 kms away from Mumbai (110 kms from Pune), there’s a small town where the sky is clear blue and vast green hiils till as far as you can see. Located 50 kms from Satara, Phaltan was once a Maratha Princely state of British India ruled by the Nimbalkars, descendants of Naik Nimbaji Nimbalkar. The first wife of Shivaji, Sai Bai belonged to Phaltan.

The drive to Phaltan, although a bit bumpy, is made pleasant with pristine lakes and acres and acres of sugarcane farms, the main crop of the region. On my recent weekend trip (hosted by Jakson Inns), I drove around the length and breadth of Phaltan and the surrounding region only to be enamoured by the sheer beauty of Maharashtra.

Things to do in and around Phaltan

Windmill Farm in Pusegaon

Around 45 minutes drive away from Phaltan, exists one of the most dream-like places in Maharashtra. The windmill farms of Pusegaon can be one of the most romantic destinations in India. There’re huge windmills till as far as eyes can see on top of the hills, clear sky, light breeze and the most spectacular sunset. You can pack some food and drinks and have a little picnic here. If you’re staying with Jakson Inns they’ll arrange a cute picnic basket for you.

There were more than 200 windmills in the region producing enough electricity to supply to the whole Phaltan area.

Pusegaon Windmill Farm, Maharashtra

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Books that have inspired me to travel

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Stephen King

And the magic has been transporting me to the most beautiful of lands since I was a kid. I have been shipwrecked on an island somewhere in Europe, fallen off the rabbit hole to find a wonderland, been through many adventures at a school of witchcraft and wizardry, have eaten the most exquisite Wazwan at a Kashmiri Pandit’s house, bought a house in Tuscany on an impulse, and have been young and poor in Paris. And then there are a few books that have actively nudged me to travel to a certain country, city or have a certain kind of experience. In no particular order, listing down a few favourites.

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

During summer holidays in my maternal grandparents’ house in Karanpur (in Uttaranchal now), I’ve spent many hot afternoons pouring over every detail of the island where the shipwrecked Swiss family creates a world that’s beyond anyone’s imagination and then spends almost entire life on the island. I would daydream of the tree-house, lying in a hammock, reading a book and eating food that the family started growing in their farm. That kid in me, drinking shikanji and laying on the deewan (bed) with a stack of books, still dreams of being shipwrecked.

Under The Tuscan Sun (Film and Book) by Frances Mayes

I watched the film first and while it’s absolutely unrealistic and completely different from the book, it made me fall in love with Tuscany. A 35 year old recently divorced author finds herself dealing with a writer’s block. She travels to Tuscany and buys an old villa on an impulse and ends up creating a family there. The book is a more realistic account of the author’s life who moves to Tuscany with her partner. Her decision of buying a house is less more impulsive. What’s common in both are the beautiful fruit orchards, bustling local markets, the food that Frances cooks and the enchanting scenery.

 

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

While a lot of people I know are in love with Japan thanks to Haruki Murakami’s books, my idea of traveling to this lovely country shaped up after reading Strange Weather in Tokyo. While reading the book all I wanted to do was sit at an Izakaya or tiny subway bars chugging sake and eating pickles, dried mushroom, grilled prawns and lobsters with wasabi. A year later I was doing just that at tiny bars of Golden Gai.

Sanjo Kiyamachi at her Gyoza joint Chao Chao in Kyoto

Also read: Going beyond sushi – Eating my way through Japan

The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie

Learning about McLeodganj through a cat’s perspective has probably been my best travel inspiration. I knew I wanted to be at this tiny Tibetan town in the mountains as soon as I started reading the book. When HHC (His Holiness’s Cat – the central character of the book) wobbled her way through the lovely hills, I imagined myself trailing on her paw-steps. I wondered about the pretty book cafes where she would perch herself on top of book shelves. I wanted to sit at those cafes, a book in hand, looking at the Dhauladhar and drinking hot chocolate.

Also Read: Where to eat in McLeodganj

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This beautiful collection of letters between Juliet Ashton and the residents of Guernsey Island is the only reason I’d wish to visit this tiny British island which was occupied by the Germans during World War II. The people of the island, cut off from the rest of the country, formed a book club as an escape from the life of scarcity. Like Ashton who eventually traveled to Guernsey and fell in love with the people there, I too dream of being on that island someday.

The high point was when a food blogger from Guernsey dropped by my blog and left a comment on the post I had written for my The Literary Kitchen series.

Also read – The lIterary Kitchen – Potato Crust Pie from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie

While the book is a comment on the partition and Kashmir issue, its the description of the Wazwan meal that made me fall in love with the cuisine and gave me this burning desire of traveling to Kashmir and eating at a local’s house.

 

How to save money for travel and plan your trips smartly

Last month when I was in Goa to attend a sourdough baking workshop at Sujit Sumitran’s house (read more about it here), I received a phone call from a business journalist. She was talking to people who had quit their jobs to travel and wanted to know how were they managing their finances and funding their travels. While quitting my job in early 2016 I never thought I was doing it specifically to travel. Yes, traveling was on the list but sorting my life out after a divorce and getting away from a job I didn’t like anymore were far bigger reasons to quit. Also, while I was quitting my regular job with fixed paycheque, I wasn’t quitting working. This only meant I had to work towards getting freelance projects that would help me sustain my humble lifestyle in Bombay as well as save to be able to plan a trip once every 2-3 months. The saving part came easily to me since I already built a habit during my job, the trick was now to sustain the habit and save more efficiently.

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Food Walk Through North Calcutta With A History Lesson

This post was written for India Food Network

Calcutta is bursting at its seams with history, and that’s not an exaggeration. Walk on the streets of north Calcutta and the mere feeling of tracing the footsteps of legends will give you goose bumps. Every corner tea stall, every snack shop has a story to tell that dates back to India’s independence movement.

Indian Coffee House, Calcutta

When British established the city as their capital and took up central Calcutta to convert it into “White Town”, the local population moved to the northern part of the city. It later became the hub for India’s freedom struggle movement and communism. Shops were built as a meeting point for the revolutionaries.

Kachuri Subzi and Tele Bhaja

One such place is Paramount in College Street, which is now declared a heritage building by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Established in 1918 by Niharanjan Mazumdar, the shop was first known as Paradise, which later became Paramount. It’s said to be the favourite hangout of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and the owners still have that chair where Netaji used to sit regularly. As I sit there, sipping on my second daber sherbat – the most popular drink here made with coconut water, ice, syrup and the pulp of coconut, the owner tells me the story behind the drink. It was Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, the founder of Bengal Chemicals, who suggested the recipe to the owner since it was inexpensive and highly nutritious. On a hot and humid day, dab sherbat is a blessing in disguise.

Netaji’s footprints become more evident as I move ahead. At Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, where he regularly ate tele bhaja (Bengali fritters), his birthday is still celebrated every year with free food for all the customers. The most famous snack here – the onion bhajiya – is known as Netaji ki piyaji.

Lebu Cha shop, Calcutta

Atithi, across the street from Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, is where I stop over for some lebu cha – the fuel that keeps the city going. The lebu cha or lemon tea in Kolkata is a hot concoction of black tea, lime juice, sugar and a special spice mix, which gives it its zing. In the midst of the locals getting together for adda – meetup to chat and discuss, I sip multiple cups of cha. I move on to Sukea Street to line up for my evening snack of kochuri-subzi at an old shop at the corner of the street. The humble shop has just two rows of benches where people sit with their plate (made of dried leaves) of kochuri and potato subzi. 

The Indian Coffee House, right opposite Presidency College, still has lingering memories of India’s independence struggle and the rich literary past. While most of the tables are occupied by the young college-goers, you’ll also spot a few elderly men sitting with a newspaper and sipping coffee. And then there are cabins, the dining rooms of the era bygone. Cabins served as private dining areas in the times when it wasn’t usual for women to eat out in public. The curtained dining booths provided them the much needed privacy. A few of such cabins still exist, albeit as tea and snack joints. A few such places are Basanta Cabin and Mitra Café – the latter is where I eat a dinner of prawn kabiraji cutlet – deep-fried cutlets coated with bread and eggs.

What and where to eat:

•    Sweets at Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy at Hatibagan
•    Piyaji at Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons, Hatibagan
•    Lebu cha at Atithi, Hatibagan
•    Kochuri subzi at Sukea Street
•    Lebu cha at the corner shop on Sukea Street
•    Daab sherbat and imli at Paramount, College Street
•    Kabiraji cutlet and fish fry at Mitra Café, Shobha Bazaar
•    Mochar Chop at Kalika, College Street
•    Coffee and dosa at Indian Coffee House, College Street

The author went on a food walk with Devashish Kuthari, a foodie and history buff, who also runs a Facebook group called GoodVegFood.