By Conchita de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
When you are roaming the streets of India’s cities and suburbs, you will find one common factor that unites them all. No, it is not the excessive honking of vehicles overcrowding the roads. Neither is it the numerous potholes, uneven pavements and surprise ditches that one encounters whilst trying to walk down the streets. It is in fact, the endless street stalls and stands that offer quick, tasty and creative snacks to satisfy your hunger. The best thing about street food in India, is that your impatient hunger need not wait very long to be satiated by the textures, flavours, temperatures and colours offered by these hard-working street vendors.
Here are some of my favourite street items that I indulge in to satisfy my notorious state of hangry.
Pani Puri/Golgappas - Pani puri, or Gol Gappas (as it is known in the north) are a must-taste street food and treasured by all Indians (not even generalising here). The complexity involved in this dish lies in the textures and layers added. The ‘puri’ is a deep fried bread, which puffs once dunked in hot oil and hardens when removed from it. ‘Pani’ means water in Hindi, and in this dish, it is flavoured with an array of spices including cumin powder, chaat masala, fresh mint and coriander, giving it a green appearance. A hole is made in the puri by pressing the thumb against it until the surface cracks. Either boiled mashed potatoes or chickpeas are added into the puri, followed by finely cut purple onions and then the tangy Pani. The trick is to eat the puri as a whole without making a mess of yourself (yet to master this). What amazes me the most about pani puri is not the dish itself, but how it is dished out, making it the ultimate act of multitasking. Each plate contains 5 puris, served one at a time because as soon as you add the water, the puri has to be consumed else it will not hold. The vendor can be serving up to 5 to 7 people at a time, customising each puri (bhayaa - pyaaz nahin chahiye, bhayaa mujhe extra aloo chahiye, brother - no onions, brother I want extra potato) as it is gulped down. As he serves the customised puris to the different customers, he is also keeping count of how many they consume all at once. Sometimes I go to the pani puri stand to merely admire how these vendors have mastered multi-tasking, and that too, in the dust and heat whilst their hungry customers await their fulfillment.
Aloo Tikki Chaat - Let’s admit that the humble potato is no doubt the greatest vegetable of all time because it can be prepared in literally a thousand ways. On the streets in India, a popular preparation of potato is known as Aloo Tikki Chaat - a spicy potato patty/cake served with tangy chutneys. I remember the first time that I tasted this street food - I wanted something simple and I saw the perfectly shaped patties sitting on the edge of the large tava (a flat, handle-less pan usually made of cast iron). I hungrily asked the vendor for just one patty which he warmed on the tava and put onto a plate. I reached my hand out to take it from him when to my alarm, he mashed the tikki with his bare hands, sprinkled raw onions and scoops of coriander and tamarind chutney on top. He added sev (deep-fried potato noodles), chaat masala and then lemon juice. All the while my hand remained in an outstretched position wanting the simple aloo tikki patty. What I got instead was a sour-sweet-spicy-tangy-hot-cold-crunchy-soft mish mash of deliciousness. The lesson I learnt: In India, you never quite get what you expect, but what you do get will never disappoint you!
Chai - Did you really think we could have a post on street food in India without giving mention to chai? Chai vendors are brilliant at business and have the knack of setting up their stalls in places where your cravings for chai just happen to materialise - which is basically anywhere and everywhere. Coming out of the temple? Have some chai to go with the prasad (a devotional offering made to God and usually sweet). Leaving college? A chai-stall has been set up in the car park so you can re-energise before the ride home. Climbing the Himalayas? Of course you will need to stop for a chai break to warm your cold soul! Depending on the region you are in, your chai can have spices (cinnamon and cardamom), be made with malai (cream), or have extra chinni (sugar). These are just a few of the variations you may encounter as your drink away through cups and cups of this glorious drink. Have a read of our post dedicated to the beverage which is India’s lifeblood here. Better yet, impress your family and friends by becoming a chai-wallah or chai walli (tea-maker) with our Chai Latte spice blend.
Andha Paratha - This might seem like a pretty standard breakfast you could whip up at home but hold up, it is the amount of oil and the concoction of spicy sauces which make this street food best consumed a little less often than the daily breakfast. Put simply, this is an egg wrap - a fried egg cooked inside a flatbread called paratha. However, on the street, the egg is sometimes fried with onions and almost always mixed with sweet and spicy chutneys and sauces (I was too afraid to ask what was inside them). It is enjoyed hot on the spot and after eating it, I guarantee you will feel that warm and fuzzy feeling in your belly.
- Kulfi - After all that spicy and hot street food, you will definitely need something to cool down your tongue and sweeten your tastebuds. Street kulfi is the perfect treat for that. Kulfi is Indian ice cream and is made by simmering full-cream milk until it starts to get slightly nutty and thick. The kulfi vendors have these wheely top load fridges, which they open to reveal metal holes the size of a 50 cent coin filled with the kulfi which they pull out and serve to you. There are different varieties of kulfi, and my favourite is the original milky one. You can enjoy flavours like badam (almond), kesar (saffron), malai (cream) and pista (pistachio), We’ve got our own easy recipe you can try here and it involves ingredients you will easily find at your local grocery store. Kulfi, when made well, is the perfect balance between the textures ‘icy’ and ‘creamy’ and is a front-runner when it comes to the world’s best ice creams (bring on the Italians and their gelatos!).
I could probably write a book on the numerous street foods available across India, but that would be another task in itself. My advice to you is to come over and experience the variety, wonder and delight that the street food will offer your tastebuds. For those of you who have tasted Indian Street Food, I would love to hear what you rate as your favourite. Comment below and let us know!
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
There is nothing quite like the overpowering sensation of ‘belonging’ that hits me as soon as my train arrives into Karmali, a small, picturesque railway station located in the north of Goa. The earth is coloured a dusty kind of rouge, the sun beats down hard and the palms of the endless coconut trees delicately intrude upon the blue skyline. Although I call Sydney home, Goa is my home away from home. That overwhelming sense of ‘belonging’ which I earlier mentioned arises from the simple fact that Goa is too, the land of my ancestors. My mind wanders to how life was a struggle back in the old times - no electricity, no technology to keep them entertained, no thermomixes and ultra-cool blenders to make nice cream and smoothies. Despite the lack of all these ‘necessities’, I believe they probably led much more fulfilling, albeit humble lives, than I ever could. The food was probably far tastier and fresher and free from the corruption of preservatives and pesticides. People would actually communicate with each other rather than hiding behind a screen. Honest and physical labour in the homes and fields would keep them fit, rather than the shallow obsession we sometimes have with exercise as a means to fulfil society’s high standards of aesthetics. It is a world we may never know.
I would be caught lying if I said I return to Goa regularly for the sole purpose of meeting and spending time with my family. Whilst they are an important reason for returning home, it is in fact the delights of Goan cuisine that keeps me coming back time after time. I must give particular mention to my Aunty’s cooking, which will feature as the central focus of this post. Here are some of my favourite dishes that she lovingly prepared for me on my recent trip that elated my soul (in no particular order).
Sambaracche Kodi - I was lying around being lazy when my aunty prepared this somewhat complicated curry. I know it involved a lot of masala, and fresh prawns not to mention an odd ingredient, dried green mangoes (salaa is the term used in Konkani - the language of Goa). First, garam masala is roasted on the tava along with dried red chillies. This roasted mixture is made into a powder in the mixer. Then a coconut is freshly grated. The grated coconut is mixed with a cup of water. This mixture is squeezed through a sieve and the thick juice is extracted. Another cup of water is added to the grated coconut and a thinner juice is saved in a separate bowl. Onions are sautéed in oil till translucent. Then the thin juice, the fresh prawns, dried mangoes are added in with the spices which you ground earlier. Once the mangoes have softened, Goa jaggery (palm sugar) is added. Then the thick coconut juice is added and the salt adjusted to taste. The curry is then brought to the boil and it’s ready to eat!
Goan Roast Beef - This is literally my favourite roast ever. My aunty prepares the beef cut (any part that is soft and meaty) by cutting it into pieces to fit into the pan. She rubs the meat with salt, vinegar, garam masala powder, haldi (turmeric) and jeera (cumin) powder. Shen then pricks the meat with a fork so that the flavours absorb and then put it in the fridge to marinate overnight. The next day she heats a pressure cooker, adds oil and seals the roast (about 5 minutes) along with dried red kashmiri chillies. Then she adds the marinade in which the roast was sitting overnight. She then puts the lid on and give the meat one whistle on high fire and then lowers the fire and simmers for 20 minutes. If you find that there is still a lot of water in the meat, after you open the lid, cook it on the fire (without the lid) until the water evaporates. Slice and enjoy in a sandwich or just on its own with a salad.
Raw Mango Carpe (Aamtto) - A mix between pudding and curry - thick, bright yellow and the perfect balance of sweet and sour. Peel raw mangoes (they shouldn’t be completely raw, perhaps 3-4 days away from their ripe state), slice them and apply salt and keep them for sometime. Extract the thick and thin juice of the coconut (as explained above). Slice onion and saute, then add haldi, a tiny amount of garlic paste and jeera (cumin) powder. To this mix add fresh prawns, the mangoes. thin coconut juice dried red chilli pieces. Let the mango cook and then add the thick coconut juice. Add sugar according to taste and salt.
Recheado Masala Prawns fried in Rava (semolina) - My Aunty makes recheado at home. It is a wet masala made with around 10 different spices and has a tangy taste because vinegar is used to preserve it. My aunty mixes the prawns in this masala and then coats them with semolina before frying. They become crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, not to mention the taste is fantastic. Prawns are my favourite dish and I can eat them with unceasing enthusiasm.
- Mackerels Roasted in Hay - It is a given rule that fish tastes best when prepared simply. This method of cooking the mackerels involved gently coating them in olive oil and individually wrapping them in banana leaves, which acts as a buffer against the fire. Hay, collected from the paddy field belonging to my Aunty, is bundled together and the fish is placed on top, and then more hay is used to cover it. We lit the hay until it began smoking and then waited for 10 minutes before flipping the fish over and lighting more hay so the other side could smoke. The result - perfectly soft, smoky and juicy mackerels which we devoured with a dash of lemon on the side.
I should also comment on the fact that I travelled to Goa in May - which is literally the hottest and most humid month of the year. It’s when your sweat sweats, when showering thrice a day is acceptable and when lethargy and languidity are the only ways in which your body rolls. However all is forgiven because it also happens to be the period during which two of my favourite fruits are in season - Mango (specifically Goa’s favourite mango - The Mankurad) and Jackfruit. Now I could write an entire blog on just how much I love these two fruits and I how I consumed them in the kilos during my stay in Goa but I won’t. However, if you happen to be in Goa during the month of May, you’ve been briefed - Mango and Jackfruit will sustain your soul too.
My Aunty packed a multitude of goodies for me for my return trip (I told her it was a short flight, but she still packed a tiffin of beef roast paos [Goan bread rolls] and jackfruits to sweeten the mouth). There were Goan sweets, mangoes, more jackfruit, home-made pickles and she even squeezed in a container of cooked prawns and more roast. I realised at that moment my sense of belonging to Goa was inextricably linked with the comfort I feel when I eat her food, and the gratitude that envelopes me as both my tummy and soul experience contentment.
To create your own taste of Goa, which your guests will love you for, click here for a tasty Goan curry involving red meat, here for one involving chicken and here if you want to make an unforgettable Goan seafood curry.
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
Every now and then, I get this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my humanity. This feeling is attributed to the fact that out of all the species on earth, humans have been chosen to be the makers and drinkers of that elixir of life - chai. Though a glass or two or three of wine might warm up my insides and enable me to relax, a cup of chai warms my soul and stashes my worries away for another day (and that day will usually involve chai too, leaving the worries with hardly a moment to bother me).
This post is an ode to the world’s second most consumed beverage (water being the first, not wine, as I mistakenly thought). It is believed that the word ‘chai’ or ‘tea’ originated from two different pronunciations in Mandarin - ‘Cha’ or ‘Te’. Hence, the words for ‘tea’ in hundreds of languages throughout our world, derive from these two different pronunciations. ‘Chai’ means ‘tea’ in Hindi (as well as in Russian, Arabic, Persian and Swahili, interestingly); ‘Cha’ in Korean and Portuguese; Caj in Croatian and Czech; and Te in Spanish, Italian, Danish and Swedish.
In India, the cup of chai has worked its way into the homes and hearts the world’s second largest populations. Every minute of every day, one of the hundreds of thousands of chai wallahs/wallis (tea vendors) across India is guaranteed to be brewing chai. Their aluminium pots externally browned by hot flames of gas and internally browned by the sacred stain of the ‘chai patti’ (tea leaves). I firmly believe that it is these men and women who drive India as a nation (and farmers too).
To me, chai is synonymous with ‘connection’ because it is always consumed in the presence of others, whether that presence be physical or emotional. When you arrive into someone’s home whether it be a friend or stranger, you are sure to be greeted with a steaming hot cup of chai which is as strong a symbol of welcome and recognition as is the traditional ‘Namaskar’ or ‘Namaaste’ (the Sanksrit greeting which translates to ‘the God within me salutes the God within you’).
Chai is a beverage of contradictions; putting us to sleep yet waking us from our slumber, settling our nerves whilst also re-energising our bodies, warming our fingertips during the cold weather and keeping us cool in summer (yes indeed, hot tea in hot, dry weather makes sense according to science. Click here for the explanation).
So how do Indians usually do chai? With milk and sugar of course! Sometimes with the addition of spices like ginger or cardamom (popularly known as ‘masala chai’). Sometimes poured from ridiculous heights to take away the initial burn to your tongue. Sometimes slurped in saucers when in a rush. In my experience of drinking chai in India, I’ve observed that the smaller the cup, the sweeter and stronger the chai. Sometimes chai is served in plastic shot glasses, its effects resembling that of much stronger, alcoholic beverages. I like my regular chai with either a simple biscuit, rusk or a plain, crumbly cake - all of which I like to dunk into my chai so as to infuse the solids and soften them so they melt in my mouth. The ‘dunking’ object should be plain in order to not disrupt the balance of flavours contained in the chai. I ain’t gonna be dunking no Tim Tams in my chai that’s for sure.
Speaking of chai, did you know that we have our very own Chai Latte spice blend? Made without any preservatives and 100% vegan just so you can be the chai wallah/walli for your loved ones and impress them with your chai-making abilities. Click here for the link to a pot-full of happiness, best shared.
Here’s to a lifetime of chai! That your life may be brewed in the reassurance of its soothing leaves, the comfort of its milk and the sweetness of taste!