By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
A typical image that comes to my mind when I think of ‘romantic cuisine’ is that scene from the Disney classic Lady and The Tramp, where the two dogs share a plate of spaghetti bolognese and unknowingly chew on the same strand until they accidentally kiss (I secretly longed for this to happen in my previous relationships but always forgot to order spaghetti when on dates. I also find spaghetti hard to share because it is one of my favourite dishes and I tend to devour it all). Another is the classic red and white checkered blanket spread across a green lawn. The blanket contains a spread of baguette, cheese and wine. French and Italian cuisines have no doubt provided us with many-a-romantic meal to share with our better halves but what other dishes can inspire romance?
As Valentine’s day approaches, I challenge you to broaden your perception of romantic cuisine by cooking none other than Indian food for your special date/partner/friend.. Here are our top five picks (in random order) for you to try out this Valentine’s Day. These are commonly available dishes in most vegetarian restaurants.
- Nothing screams romantic like ‘Pani Puri’. This popular street food provides textural sensation; the crunch of the puri shell, the spicy water that floods the mouth and the pungent flavour of the raw onions. In true couple style, you can take turns feeding each other pani puri.
- Why not share a South Indian Vegetarian Thali with your valentine? Thalis are great because of the variety they offer; rice and roti, sambhar/dahl (lentil curries) and rasam (a spicy, watery soup with tamarind as its base), 2-3 different spiced vegetables, papad and fresh yoghurt. This is just in one serve! Get your fingers messy as they dip, dunk and scoop out all the deliciousness on offer.
- Nothing spells love as much as butter does and the dish Pav Bhaji is a testament to that love. ‘Pav’ means bread and ‘bhaji’ means vegetables fried in spices. What makes this dish extra delicious is the fact that the main vegetables (potato, peas, carrots, cauliflower and french beans) are first boiled in water so that they become mushy. They are then mashed and added to a mix of onions, tomatoes, capsicum and spices all sautéed with butter forming a thick, rich gravy that is dark orange in colour. Basically, knobs of butter are added in the beginning, middle and end stages of the cooking. This is gravy is scooped up with soft, buttered (of course) bread which you and your partner can devour. Licking of fingers post eating is mandatory and your valentine will be nothing short of delighted at the time spent preparing this dish (it is time-consuming). For time is love is not?
Gulab Jamun and Vanilla Ice Cream is without doubt the best Indian dessert to share with your valentine. This sweet treat is made from milk solids which are deep fried and soaked in a sugary syrup spiced with whole cardamom pods. They are usually served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The temperature contrast of hot and cold and the textural contrast of moistness and creamy awaken the palate’s senses. Of course if you are a die-hard gulab jamun fan like I am and find the thought of sharing one bowl a little restrictive, you may always order two bowls at the outset to make it crystal clear to your valentine that this is a dessert best enjoyed individually at the same time, rather than shared.
- Another dessert is featured in this list because what would Valentine’s Day be without a little extra sweetness? Falooda is a colourful dessert cum beverage delight that will surely please your date. It is akin to a thick-shake but filled with vermicelli, basil seeds, chunks of jelly, milk, rose syrup and of course, ice-cream all mixed together and served in a tall glass. If this mere description itself does not fill you up, then you can imagine what the real dessert will be like. That is why Falooda is the ideal dessert to share with your loved one. Ask for an extra straw and spoon (to scoop up all that sweet, sweet goodness).
No matter whom you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, we hope it will be in spicy company!
Image Source: www.mentalfloss.com
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
Even before I have had sufficient time to stow away my luggage under the seat on which I will spend the next 24 hours journeying nearly 1,200kms, I am already being semi-trampled by the first vendor to walk through my carriage selling bottled water. The next comes within two minutes carrying a large silver flask and yelling out ‘chai chai’. Being India, he is stopped on several occasions in my carriage to serve hot chai. This act requires three specific manoeuvres which he executes with finesse; (1) the paper cup is removed from the stack in his left hand and brought to the tap of the heavy flask being held by his right hand; (2) He uses his left hand to turn the tap and release the chai and close the tap again; and (3) He serves the chai with his left hand and collects the money with the same and proceeds to repeat this process until his chai flask is empty. During the course of my journey, there must have passed at least 30 chai-wallahs (tea-boys). I honestly lost count by the 18th hour.
If you were impressed by the above-mentioned chai-pouring process, I am yet to describe how vendors prepare bhel puri (a sweet and spicy snack involving fresh tomatoes and onions mixed with spices, tamarind chutney and puffed rice) or peanut masala (roasted peanuts served with onions, tomatoes, masala and drizzled with lemon). You are left admiring how these vendors manage to jump onto moving trains, hands laden with heavy, hot foods, navigate through the mass of bodies and luggage and come out relatively unscathed, with empty boxes and pockets full of small notes.
During the course of my journey, I counted how many hot items (food and beverages) passed through my carriage and have listed them below. It should be noted that I spent 14-15 hours of my journey asleep and as a result there is a 59% chance that I missed counting some snacks during that period. I deliberately chose to omit the ‘meal options’ as a passenger must place an order to receive them (I enjoyed vegetable biryani for dinner). I also did not include the numerous packaged snacks that passed through the carriages (biscuits, juices, milk, chips, lollies etc.). Below is a list of just hot snacks and beverages.
- Samosa - Spiced potato and peas encased in deep-fried pastry shaped like a triangle;
- Vada Pav - Spiced potato deep fried in chickpea flour and served with buttered bread rolls;
- Pav Bhaji - A thick gravy made from potato, capsicum, cauliflower and spices all mashed up and served with toasted, buttered bread rolls;
- Bhel puri - See paragraph 2 for a detailed description;
- Idly Chutney - Steamed rice cakes served with coriander, mint and coconut chutney; and
- Cutlet Pav - A spiced veggie patty served with sliced bread.
The variety is phenomenal. The snacks vary according to which part of India you are travelling from/to. Variety is also affected by the class you are travelling in. Lower classes like general and sleeper classes are exposed to more variety because such sections are more open and accessible to vendors (hygiene is questionable but I find closing your eyes during preparation and serving of food quite useful).
It should also be noted that train stations are excellent hubs for delicious snacks and meals at very reasonable prices. Individual platforms are usually filled with hawkers selling everything from fruit salad, to bread pakora (deep-fried slice bread stuffed with spiced potatoes) to cucumber slices sprinkled with chaat masala.
So for those of you who are fortunate enough to travel to India and especially to travel on Indian trains, do release the foodie within and try the amazing variety offered. If you happen to have more than one train journey, then you are exceptionally fortunate and can perhaps spread out what you try (warning: too much deep fried bread and potato may not go down too well with your travelling tummy).
If there is one thing you can be sure of, it is the fact that you can never starve whilst journeying with Indian Railways. I highly recommend that you begin your journey empty handed. I assure you that you will arrive at your destination with a full belly and taste buds that have experienced utmost contentment.
Image source: http://newsable.asianetnews.tv/india/indian-railways-new-catering-policy-separates-cooking-production-of-food