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India Calling…

I would’ve safely assumed it to be me dreaming, about all my favorites together in the same fantasy, had I not known better. A recent tragedy left Switch, DShah and me shopping all weekend, something that took us across seas and to a world we had grown up in. And yet, so close home.

Edison, New Jersey, should be called Little India or something more desi, Edisonpur or Edisonabad maybe. It beats and breathes the lives of  the countless Indians who migrated to greener pastures back in the flourishing days. It symbolizes man’s quest to find home around any surrounding that he is thrust into, and if not successful at that, the drive to create it.

The glistening jewelers, with brilliant creations adoring their window showcases, line both sides of the strip. Eateries flaunt their melange of sweets and savories; sugar cane juice made to perfection, complete with the ginger pieces and pinch of spice, is worth every last drink. The pan shops have everything from calcutta sada to the stuffed meetha. If you woke up from a slumber and found yourself amidst these saree shops and salons, you would have a strange familiarity of waking up in a suburb in Mumbai. The ben-jis and babus, saree or kurta clad and conversing in fluent, authentic gujarati wouldn’t help much in judging your bearings either. I could have sworn this little town was the sister of some lost town had a sister in Modi-land.

The jewelery market here is bountiful with wings spanning into gold ornaments, raw gold and a dozen precious stones. Every visitor travelling back home stocks up on these goodies, a ‘loss-proof’ investment I hear. Not only do the adroit jewelers make sure you buy three times your intended purchase, but they provide unsolicited advice on handling Indian Customs as well (pun intended!). Make sure to keep your ears open when those special jewels rain down. With a strict cash-only policy, it is definitely a world in itself.

But none of these stores and the shopping came close in satisfaction quotient to what a foodie derived from the numerous options here. The Saravanaa Bhavan here, one of the four in the country, and many across the world, is a mouth watering treat for any lover of South Indian food. We found ourselves wanting to order at least four items from each page of the colorful menu. A true to its roots sambar vadai and bona fide mini idly were the perfect start for our lunch. For the main course, between us we managed to order a mysore masala dosai, adai aviyal and kara dosai. The special meals were the typical home made feast, thorough to the point of having the mango chutney and appalams.

The climax was the genuine filter coffee, nursed to perfection in their stainless steel tumbler and davara ;) I don’t know what it is between us South Indians and Coffee. Tea is always the travel drink, the compromise you force yourself to, when you don’t have the luxury of home made filter coffee. But coffee is the drink of the kings, OK, I can argue with you for an hour on that one.

I still debate the actual source of the flavor; I know it’s somewhere in space between the coffee powder, that strong chicory, that filter that gets passed down generations and the davara-tumbler. The aroma that floods the vicinity, the minute the hot water starts to seep through the freshly ground powder, is out of this world in all senses. Contrary to the now-hyped latte or cappuccino’s smooth and delicate froth, the filter coffee has a rusty, bubbled froth. No coffee is complete without that froth, balanced precariously, an inch beyond the tumbler top. The trick lies in pouring the coffee from the highest point your hands can reach. And it is this little white dream that separates the tea from the coffee, the luxurious from the mundane.

The filter coffees in hotels added all the glitz and the glamor within these basic requirements; the inverted-tumbler-trick is still my favorite. Sitting miles and years away, thinking about our visits to Annapoorna and picturing God mix the sugar and coffee in his slick movements, I emptied the coffee into the dabara and peeped in, anticipating the ingeniously placed extra serving of sugar down there. I was expecting too much after all.

The meal had been etched in memory for days to come; the adai aviyal after two long years was not going to be let go off that soon, was it?

The touching finale was the rain drenched dandiya in JC. While we stood, tucked under the comfort of the shades, and gorged on the bhel puris , the hundreds of staunch Gujaratis went around the circle, with ritual-like dedication, making the drizzle all too trivial. Dames dressed in flowery dresses danced about, while their better halves tried being up to the expectations in more senses than one. The sheer mix of ages in that group astounded me; old women, jackets over their saree to beat the cold, danced about not missing a step. The entire scene, the whole day, had been too mystic to be real,  and yet thousands of eyes had blinked through it.

I saw pot holed roads and got bitten by mosquitoes; drank genuine filter coffee and ate fresh vadu maanga. Would they let me miss home at all?

And the seed is sown.

Update: Just noticed that this post has more content in the PS and PPS’s than the main body. Interesting.!!

Me: Of Vadis and vadaams..?

Him: : P  Not good. Any other names?

Me: Hmm…how about “Bhaakris, Kootus and Us”..?

Him: hee hee…dud head….

Me:  Well…I got the tag line figured out… It should be “Saoji, tacchimam and everything in between”

Him: LOL…Nice Idea….

 

PS: Vadaams : Integral part of an trusty tamil meal. They are crispy, side dishes and some variations of it look like this and this.

Bhaakri : A rustic, Marathi form of the roti or naan prepared with millets ( Ok, don’t beat me up; A bhaakri is a bhaakri, I know). I found a very authentic recipe of a bhakri here.

Koottu : Courtesy wikipedia, is a tamil dish, made of vegetable and lentils and is semi-solid in consistency. Can’t beat Aayis’ version here.

Sauji : I hear this is a mutton preparation typical of Nagpur, Maharashtra. You tend to come out of Sauji eateries, red eyed, nose dripping and lips still smacking. On my list of to-dos. Will link you guys to it if I find a decent one on the net.

tacchimam : Well, if you were born in a tambrahm household, you already know what I am talking about. If you are blessed with them as friends, you also know what am referring to too. No, it is not just curd rice, and calling it just that is a spite that I choose to take very seriously.

PPS: Talk about passion and work and mixing the two together! A very interesting paper here, that I bumped into while trying to put together the best definition for a vadaam.