This series of posts (there are more than one-by this age, ofcourse, there are more) is dedicated to all the wonderful, crazy, weird restaurants I have eaten in during my travels. And no, I never attempted to make most of these dishes at home – thankfully! One of the most important parts of travelling for me was the surety that I am going to be eating out for those many days – every single meal – bliss. Also, I would be eating things I hadn’t even thought off or were made in a way I wasn’t even aware of – the endless surprises, I loved that.
Jai Mata Di
Don’t panic- I ain’t going religion ninja on you. I’ve been to Vaishno Devi twice – and the most important thing for me on these trips was – rajma chawal. Whether it is the appetite you whip up after that long trek or just plain divinity, the rajmah I've had here are simply and absolutely the best. And yes I have tried to recreate that unsuccessfully over the years – no not disasters but just not matching the ones served there. I’ve tried different types of rajmah – from the small dark ones specific to jammu to the long pink ones. I've tried the kookiest of things to put in it to enhance the flavour – my college boyfriend used to soak the beans in milk for half an hour before cooking it – it works like a charm to soften the beans and adds a hint of creaminess (you know what a sucker I am for that)- but still doesn't taste the way it did on the way to the temple. Still in my list of I make a mean – rajmah- features prominently.
The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of..
My mom was a hill person. Twice a year we went off to explore and it was all in the hills. From Nainital to McLeodganj we went everywhere. The best or crazy part of our travels was that with zero research we would just go with the flow.
When we went to Nainital, for example, till the night before we left we were actually preparing for a trip to Jaipur. But that was a really hot day and my mom came back from work and just announced that there was simply no dealing with this heat and we were going to Nainital instead! A last minute scramble for jackets and off we went.
Another time, we had decided to go to Dalhousie- but after two days there we knew that another 5 would be impossible – spoke to a few locals, packed up our bags and off we went to McLeodganj – I hadn’t even heard the name before then! Our arrival there was epic – late at night, in the middle of a storm and the entire place had no electricity. I remember making all sorts of bargain with the super powers that be while we walked those dark streets looking for a hotel – of course we didn’t have reservations – we never did back then.
In a nutshell, my mom had more balls in her little finger than I do today – this taking off without reservations at all times if the night business is just something I know I can’t do.
The Nom Nom of the Hills
The food we had on these travels matched the adventures. Those perfect dimsums in Manali – though they turned out to be chicken and my mom threw a hissy fit, my sister and I thought it was the best Diwali lunch ever! A wholesome Tibetan meal in a hole-in-the-wall kind of restaurant – finger smacking! In my three and a half decades i’ve had just one cup of coffee – and that was because it was freezing cold in rohtang pass – but I can never forget the taste of that bitter sweet brew warming me for all of thirty seconds before I froze again. The most amazing paranthas ( the staple diet of any punjabi) with butter in dalhousie was surprising as we being punjabis never thought anyone else could make them as good.
The Epic Goa Trip
The one and only time we went to a non hill location was Goa – that was also the last time the three of us went alone on a trip. I was 21 and oh the excitement was just too much! Even though my sister remembered seeing the ocean for me it was my first time – I can never forget that tang in the air, the smell of love – and of course my love at first sight – the ocean. I am a paradox that is so complex that no one has figured me out – I can’t swim, I am extremely hydrophobic – but the ocean is my one great love and the goa trip was where this affair began.
What the fish!
On my to-do or die list for goa was eating a genuine goan fish curry. So all excited about our lunch at a beach shack ( oh how I fell in love with that!) I ordered a fish curry despite the mothership giving me a stinkeye. After about an hour- which is how long it takes in laaaiiidddd back Goa, the waitress plonks a plate with an entire fish, its eye socket garnished with mustard seeds and a separate bowl of curry and rice. We looked at it and my mom only said – sit on another table. I beat a hasty retreat.
So there I was struggling all alone trying to figure out how to eat the damn thing – it had bones for crying out loud! Tiny, delicate transparent bones. And sure enough, the second bite I took I choked. I have choked exactly twice in my entire life and let me tell you that whole sensation of air not going in, vision dimming- so close to giving up on life is bloody insane!
The waitress come running, took a huge ball of rice and shoving it down my throat kept screaming at me just swallow. Sigh. Obviously I survived, but I was banned from eating fish that entire trip.
Another trick I picked up in goa was the beauty of port wine – cooking with it added a hint of wickedness, a dark flavour - which to a girl who had yet to have her first drink, tasted of temptation. I brought back a couple of bottles and for the next six months experimented with anything that took my fancy. You now know how that goes.
The guy putting up my blogs is going to be happy with this one. But since its 3 am and I have a long story ahead I’m going to stop here. The next installment will have my adventures abroad. Till then, happy eating, cooking, ordering!