A Kerala Shaadi

about Thrissur, Kerala, India 2 comments:

Its always a good idea to cultivate marriageable Mallu friends, or at least friends willing to be married to Mallus. The last time this yielded dividends was at Anjali’s wedding – Chennai, but a wonderful, payasam-loaded affair – and it took half a decade to find another candidate.

And so I landed in Thrissur, home to temple, elephants, tons of big fat jewelers and the ridiculously named Lulu Garden Hotel (35 rooms and a helipad) working off my work obligations before jumping into the revelry. I checked in late, only a dull ‘working’ lunch in my belly, but with sleep deprivation and little appetite for adventure decided to eat in (hotel kitchens are usually dull, I thought, but rarely fatal). Two hours later, I was weeping and sniffling like a baby. The food was, much to my surprise, excellent. It was also blazingly, killingly, blazingly (have I already said that?) spicy - even the raita given to cool things off had pieces of chilly. The mutton olathiyathu sang with flavour, the prawn biriyani danced with aromas and the karimeen was worth every bit of its pollichathu - it was, in other words, a thoroughly satisfactory meal for all the fire and brimstone you waded through.

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The shaadi was all about mundus and veg food. While my friends tried to figure out how to climb steps with their fancy dresses, I investigated the food options. The cornerstone, of course, was avial – but there was a whole array of rapidly served veggies that I no longer remember the names of. Pumpkin was involved, as was raw mango, pineaple. banana stem and a procession of other unknown vegetables in liquid, paste and dry forms. Rasam, sambar, rice, achaar, all danced about on the banana leaf glammed up with coconut and loads of spices. The two payasams that followed somehow forced their way down overstuffed gullets.

Kerala is one of the great cuisines of the world. Distinctive, delicious and with unending variety; its going to take a lot more than two weddings to get to any level of familiarity here. Unfortunately, its not a food well represented in Mumbai (though there are exceptions to this rule). There’s a huddle of them in the fort area, and a smaller cluster in Mahim. Maybe my next food route will be about those joints.

Hidden Gold

about Sicka Nagar, Girgaon No comments:

One hardly ever comes across anything worth talking about that has not already been talked about. Mumbai's bloggers are quite an active lot, usually out-writing me with ease. It was with some satisfaction, therefore, that I discovered hidden gold in the heart of Girgaum.

Of course, being entirely undiscovered was too much to ask. A MumbaiBoss column by Roshni Bajaj Singhvi first made me aware of Golden, but what really intrigued me was that no one else seemed to have even so much as mentioned it anywhere else. Stalwarts like Zomato and Burrp were silent, and every other mention on the great big cloud were rehashings of the same aforementioned column. All other search results spent their time insisting that Sharma Bhelpuri or some such other was better. This Golden, it seemed, was hidden even from Google.

Back on my bicycle last week, I headed straight to Girgaum. The directions in the article were a bit sketchy so a bit of asking around led me to Sicka Nagar (yes, that is indeed the name), a red art-deco landmark that must at some point have been quite a talking point. Enquiries (as Wodehouse might have put it) yielded more than I hoped – two golden bhel sellers (apparently a spinoff from the original was operating in the area too). Spinoff turned out to be steps away, and he did indeed have golden bhel – a thick yellow mustardy sauce coupled with flattened (rather than the usual puffed) rice. It was unusual and blazingly spicy but disappointingly pedestrian.

I nearly wrote off the adventure at this stage. You can’t make a tale out of pedestrian, even if it is hidden away from google’s eyes  but fortified by a nice-ish roadside kesar milk, enthusiasm renewed, I set off again - in search, this time, of only the original. Roshni Bajaj Singhvi had warned me that the original managed to survive over seventy years – surely something more than pedestrian must be going on.

Vegetable guy told me that GBH was inside the gates of Sicka Nagar, but all I could see inside was an elaborately decorated building that turned out to be Modern School. After a few minutes of architectural admiration, I refocused my energies and found a kindly security guard to lead me to GBH – and discovered why it was so hard to find. It is, quite literally, tucked inside the awning behind the Sicka Nagar gate – there’s no way to come by it unless you know where to go. I approached a rather unrushed (and empty stall) run by a boy more interested in a DVD player than pushing any bhel my way; the ‘golden’ liquid in plain sight looking far more watery than spinoff’s version did. This looked a very unlikely bearer of any kind of bloggable legacy but at least it was cheap and hard to find so I ordered.

 

 

And the verdict – GBH is much better than spinoff. It is distinctive, flavourful and quite interesting indeed. The crispy flattened rice makes for a nice change from regular puffedrice bhel, and the chutney is quite different from the sweetish tomato punch of normal bhel. Spicy, complex, unusually textured – its certainly worth a 73-year legacy.

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