Hauz Khas Village and the Yeti

(Anghrija by training is a lawyer and a dear friend with whom I have shared a special bond over momos and things that are edible. She pens down this  post on Yeti our favourite haunt in Hauz Khas Village, Delhi. Happy reading!)

Hidden away somewhere between the concrete jungle of Greenpark and Hauz Khas are the majestic ruins and the urban village of Hauz Khas.  I remember going there the first time, about 5 years back, as a student.  All I remember from that time are the South Indian restaurant Naivedyam and the North Indian food joint – Park Baluchi, and of course, the sprawling Deer Park.  Apart from the ruins, I did not find anything to note.  Perhaps, it had something to do with the time of the visit (winter night, and pitch dark), or that, as a student, I could barely afford what Hauz Khas Village(HKV) had to offer.

The next time I visited HKV, I could take in the full extent of this urban village.  Streets and by-lanes dotted with quaint shops – silver jewellery, arts and crafts, furniture, clothes – selling “ethnicity” and charm, and scores of big and small restaurants, pull one in.  At the end of the main street, the ruins loom large and impressive. And then, right where the ruins begin, a small signboard, on the left, spells out Yeti – the Himalayan Restaurant.  Bingo!  Anyone who knows me knows my weakness for food that is Tibetan, Bhutanese, North-East Indian, etc.  Darling “Itiriti,” the hostess of this blog, can vouch for my fondness for momos.  In fact, food has been at the background of our friendship, always.

Anyways, the name drew me in, and I climbed up the stairs.  As one enters Yeti, the first thing one notes is the welcoming smiles and the Buddhist chants playing in the background.  Then one notices the brick layering and the rustic charm.  I, especially, love the furniture – square wooden tables and chairs – very neat, spare and comfortable.  And, the place overlooks the ruins!!!  The hosts are typically dressed in “hill” attire, and are typically warm and cute.  The menu is substantial, and can look a bit daunting to the uninitiated (what with the strange and unfamiliar names, etc.).  However, the hosts are quick to explain what the names mean.  And, by way of experience, I would say that you can pretty much order anything on that menu, and it will be good, except for that one time when one of their rice dishes was cooked in stale meat-stock.  The food is served on time.  The drinks menu is not really big by any standards, but they serve beer and vodka.  What I love most about Yeti is the rustic warmth that it exudes; it makes way for friendly conversations between friends and strangers too.  You can almost visibly notice people loosening up within minutes of entering the place.  And, the food is to die for (and easy on the pocket, too)!!!

My Yeti favorites are gyuma (pork sauges), non-veg wai-wai sadeko (wai-wai tossed in lemon, with veggies and chicken), jadoh with dokhleh (Khasi specialty – rice cooked in meat stock with choice of pork/chicken), the buff momos, and the sweet lime. 

Next time that you are at HKV, and are feeling the need to be rejuvenated, and you have a fondness for “hill” food, do visit Yeti.  I promise that you will enjoy the experience.

©itiriti

Food Censorship –II (Contd)

Why North East Dhaba, JNU is not allowed to sell beef and pork?

Anybody remotely interested in foodscape of canteens in India will be aware of the legendary Dhabas at JNU. One such Dhaba that looked promising in JNU was North East Dhaba.  Well if you thought you could skip the stalls at Delhi Haat and will try out dishes from  the states across NE India in this Dhaba you might be disappointed as it is not allowed to serve any pork or beef dishes. Why? The pamphlet  titled “ Why North- East Dhaba is not allowed to sell beef and pork? Democratic Practices and Eating Habits in JNU” by Naga Study Forum, JNU argues “… Though North East Dhaba was primarily established to cater the dishes of the indigenous cuisine of the cultural communities from the region, till date the administration of JNU has not permitted the food joint to sell any main dishes of the region which comprises of pork and beef. Any right thinking person will question why the North East food joint in JNU serves Chinese dishes mostly? When we say we are not Indian by culture and its food habit, it doesn’t mean we are Chinese”. This kind of food censorship in one of the premier educational institutions of the country which has numerous students from North East India and foreign countries is astonishing.

 In a recently concluded Public Meeting on “The Politics of Food Culture: The Holy Cow and the Unholy Swine” organised by The New Materialists at Koyna Mess, JNU on 20 March 2012 Prof Nivedita Menon in her talk pointed out that “ In a democracy you have no option but to live with difference”.  She also argued that food  habits is at the same time an intimate activity but shaped by specific socio-cultural formations as coded and practices through food taboos. She explored the category of “difference” to argue how food practices and global ethical voices of food habits and embedded in a certain politics of food and the inter-linkages between food movements, religious pedagogies and finally how politics of food also produces hierarchies within communities and also gender.  Prof. Kanchah Illiah in his remarks took us back to the debate on politics of beef eating in Osmania Campus and showed us how a campus which celebrated religious syncretism through three separate sets of kitchen in Nizam’s times has become intolerant towards beef consumption which is part and parcel of Dalit food culture. Prof. Bhagat Oinam in his speech illustrated how power relations operate though food practices and congratulated the students for initiating a debate on food politics.

Three sets of issues emerged from the public meeting:

While eating food is an intimate activity, the social codes that govern food are embedded in caste politics and its impact is felt in the way food is regulated in public spaces and campuses are no different.

Secondly, the need to recognise difference is an integral part of democracy.

Thirdly, the “sociality” governing food makes it an interesting site around which food taboos, eating behaviours and even industrial codes on food censorships are regulated and manifested.

Itiriti urges its readers to think about the ongoing campus practices relating food and support the call for serving of pork and beef in North East Dhaba in JNU. 

©itiriti

Revisiting food censorship in campus – I

Larke aur ande allowed nahin hain

( Men and eggs are not allowed)

We came across this comment many years back when we were frantically looking for houses in North Campus, Delhi. I am sure many of you may have encountered comments like these when you have gone house-hunting in Delhi. At the same time, we have found landlords/landladies who have been non-interfering about our food habits. For instance, I remember with fondness how my landlady used to religiously send me a dish of lotus stem on Tuesdays as I hated the tiffin food item of puri and chchole. Nevertheless, food practices are personal and the recent incident in Osmania University shows increasing intolerance and lack of respect towards people’s choices.

Yes, I am talking here about the “sacredness” of the ‘Cow’ and the way in which the ‘sacredness’ has been appropriated to ensure food censorship in recent acts of vandalism by ABVP in Osmania Campus. Food censorship based on religion, gender and caste has been the subject of criticism in public space for a long time but the increasing intolerance or lack of space for food that is considered “different” needs to be interrogated closely.

 I remember with fondness my first initiation into beef eating which dates back to college days and it was mainly to enjoy a red meat other than mutton. My cousin who refrains from eating beef had remarked,“ I was trying to make a point. My food habits had become secular”.  My cousin jokingly had exchanged notes with my mother( a practising Hindu) that I had started consuming beef. She had thought I would get into trouble. My mother made an interesting comment, “If you can’t eat, or wear something you can be tolerant towards people’s choices. It’s a matter of choice”.   

The recent acts of intolerance towards students who wanted to organise beef festival in Osmania as reported in Telegraph needs some introspection with the way food practices across campuses in India are steeped in majoritarian politics. The recent protests by ABVP on campus is nothing new. If they had a problem with “certain” kind of films, seminars and now it’s “food”. G.S. Radhakrishna in the article,“After Telengana, call for beef fest ingnites campus” draws our attention to how food practices in Osmania University is steeped in caste politics. According to this article, Dalit students were cooking beef as part of an event that coincided with the birth anniversary celebrations of Dalit icons, Jagjivan Ram (April 5) and Jyotibha Phule (April 11) and B.R. Ambedkar (April 14). The Dalit students also wanted beef to be served in campus canteens where the non-vegetarian fare includes, chicken, mutton and eggs.

What is interesting is how the politics of food goes beyond majoritarian choices. Of the 8000 students on the campus 4000 students belong to Other Backward Classes and 1000 are tribals. Upper and Foreign students make about 1000.

Despite such number games, the food politics or censorship rules seem to be steeped in caste hierarchy that too in an institution where there were three separate kitchens ( one for non-vegetarian food which included beef, the other without beef and one for vegetarians) when the institution came into existence ( as told by Prof. Kanchah Illiah in a talk in JNU on 20 March, 2012).  

Let us not fall into the trap of food censorship. Food is  a matter of choice and let’s respect it.

For details visit

(http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120319/jsp/frontpage/story_15267319.jsp)

©itiriti

Sweeten your festival of colours

(Itiriti: Jyoti Gupta pens down the second post under Guestspeak to guide Itiriti’s readers through a cooking trail of Gujia- a sweetmeat eaten across Northern India on the occasion of Holi- the festival of colours.  Jyoti Gupta is a student of Sociology and loves to paint. Safe Holi! Happy reading!)

Whenever I revisit my childhood, among all other moments, there comes the day of Holi in my mind. The celebration of the festival starts with ‘Holikadahan’ on the night of ‘choti holi’ (the day preceding Holi). The following day is called ‘badi holi’ or ‘Dhulendi’ when people visit each other’s houses carrying ‘gulal’; younger generation would generally have chemical mix or synthetic colours.  Faces and bodies are imbued followed by greeting and hugging each other.It is suggested that on this day we should forgive our enemies and lend a hand of friendship, marking a new beginning. This idea of forgiveness makes the festival spiritually rich. Holi is exclusive because of its special food items- tempting and spicy ‘Panike bare’ and sweet ‘Gujia’.

 As a kid, ‘Gujia’ – the sweet samosa – was cherished by me for two reasons. Firstly, this is the only sweet prepared during a festival which is not offered to God during main ‘puja’ (as in the case of other Hindu festivals); you can have it right then and there. Secondly, Gujia preparation is a collective effort with equal participation from family members, relatives and sometimes even neighbours come together. Though this practice might not be prevalent in cities but I was lucky to come across in the various story telling sessions of my grandmother (grandma).

Like any other middle class family, my grandma also tried to pass each and every skill of cooking that she knew to me. Similarly, as a curious child, I tried to learn everything religiously. Generally women prepare ‘gujia’, but as I have witnessed, men also have petty roles to play.

‘Gujia’ has mainly two sections- cover  and the filling. Cover is universally made of ‘maida’ and filling can be of various sorts depending upon one’s taste. It can vary from the pure ‘khoya’ (hard milk) to ‘suji’ (‘rava’ or semolina) to dry fruits to coconut and so on. The ‘gujia’ that we make is primarily made of ‘khoya’ while having all other mentioned ingredients as part of the filling. 

For cover, ‘maida’ is kneaded with ‘ghee’ and hot water. It is to be taken care that the mixture should be tight enough (tighter than that is used for chapattis). For stuffing, ‘khoya’ is to be mixed with fried ‘suji’, powdered sugar, grated coconut and other dry fruits- cashew nuts, almonds and raisins etc.  A solution of ‘maida’ and water is also made that is to be used as glue.

Solution of Maida and Water

Figure 1: Solution of Maida and Water

Once these three mixtures are ready, small balls of tight ‘maida’ mixture are prepared; these are then uniformly rolled out converting into round sheets. 

 

Figure 2: Maida Balls

Figure 3: Rolled Maida Balls.

Loose ‘maida’ solution is then pasted on half of the round ‘maida’ sheet and then the filling is done. The round sheet is folded in a way making it a half stuffed circle.

Figure 4: Loose Maida Solution during stuffing

Figure 4: Fold neatly the sides

With the help of a side cutting machine, this stuffed circle is then given a design on its corners; that makes it look aesthetically beautiful.

Figure 5: Side cutting tool

Figure 6: Gujias after the design

Rest of the ‘maida’ balls go through the same process. While this process is going on these raw ‘gujia’ are kept on specially constructed neat and clean bedding. These are placed delicately and covered with a thin cloth. Once all ‘gujia’s are stowed, those are deep fried together.

Figure 7: Gujias after frying

Almost always we are left with some extra ‘maida’ mixture that we use to make ‘namakparay’. That is how you get a combination of hot and sweet ‘gujia’ and salty ‘namakparay’.

Figure 8: Namakparay

Try making ‘gujia’ and celebrate Holi with enthusiasm

Happy Holi 🙂

© itiriti

New addition – Guestspeak

For a long time I have been thinking of adding a column “Guestspeak”.  There is so much to write about food and food practices that I realised the task is mammoth.  The main purpose of this column would be to have contributions from food explorers to widen itiriti’s ways of understanding food codes, eating out and of course sweet trails. So interested contributers could send in short abstracts on food as a commodity of circulation, food as it is received in cultural practices and of course recipes. Topics on diverse cultural practices related to food are welcome.  Word limit (500-1000 words).  Feel free to write in for any clarificatons.

Yongchak: The Bio-Bomb of Manipuri Cuisine

(Itiriti: I had invited a dear friend who believes life is about flavours. By training, an anthropologist, and a photographer by passion, Rekha Konsam is a wide-eyed explorer of herbs, and plants. She introduces the readers to the bio-bomb of Manipuri cuisine. Happy reading!)

When I was invited to write a guest post on Manipuri food for itiriti, I wondered and wandered in my thoughts for long about a suitable topic that would have something to do with food. The only thing I was certain about was that it would not be a recipe for the simple reason that I myself never follow any recipe while preparing even the simplest item. But somehow we always seem to be assaulted by food. More so, in the world of the virtual where the displaced diasporic communities always seem to be hunting for the taste of home. Anything near to that is relished – in thought if not in taste, consumed by the eyes if not by the mouth. Come winter, and the latest pictures of the winter seasonal vegetables, made their photographic presence in the community portals. Inevitably, these are accompanied by groans and slurps. Making use of one of my favourite timepasses (hunting out of English names of herbs and vegetables that formed a part of the Manipuri cuisine), I decided that it would only be befitting to introduce the readers of itiriti to the favourite winter vegetable that holds pride of place in the Manipuri cuisine. This is the yongchak.

Figure 1: A Yongchak Tree. Photo Courtsey - Mayanglambam Merina

 The English name for this vegetable is tree beans, but it has been infamously nicknamed stinky beans. It is one vegetable that has been drawn out as a caricature as well – there actually seems to be an internet game modelled on it! Certainly, its fame spreads far and wide. The Wiki page entry on this item lists several names by which – petai in Thai, sutaw in Indonesia, ….  A blogger called it one of god’s strange creation – you either love it or hate it. http://www.thefoodrenegade.com/2011/02/sambal-petai-chilli-smelly-beans.html .

Another one humourously recommends it as the most appropriate food to be consumed (next only to garlic) for keeping away an undesirable date. It appears to be widely consumed in Southeast Asia and is often to be found in Thai restaurants as part of its ‘secret recipe’ . Known by various names (petai, sutaw, etc), the Southeast Asian palate distinguishes two varieties of the tree beans. It is the glossy green seeds that are consumed.

For the Manipuri palate, love for yongchak is trully blind! We make no such distinctions and we try to make the best use of every part of the vegetable. The manipuri cuisine offers recipes starting from the flowers and the tender beans to the dried mature beans. The mature seeds of the vegetable is nicknamed ‘bomb’. The two most reknowned dishes made from the vegetable is yongchak singju and yongchak iromba. These two are only the more reknowned ones. There is an array of possible ways of consuming it. Despite my reluctance to write a recipe, I figure it is better to give an insight into how the vegetable is consumed as a part of the Manipuri diet.

Yongchak Iromba: Iromba is a dish made of boiled vegetables mashed together in a sauce of chilly paste and ngari (fermented fish). It is then served with a combination of herbs as garnish – onion, spring onion, chameleon leaves, coriander, vietnamese coriander, etc. it can be prepared from various assortment of vegetables. The iromba of yongchak can very simply be made with yongchak and potato. It can also be made with the other seasonal vegetables as assortment. The best garnish for the yongchak iromba is with a herb locally known as lomba (scientific name, esholtzia blanda).

For those interested in the recipe, here is the link http://chakhum.e-pao.org/ . The recipe is obviously written for people familiar with the Meitei cuisines. Just to add my own note to those unfamiliar with our cuisine, the thin skin of the whole bean is scrapped out. The Meiteis have a special instrument for it that looks pretty much like a tongue-cleaner, but a scrapper can well substitute for it, I guess (or may be try out with a tongue-cleaner :D). Post boiling, the bean would still have another film of skin. Remove this skin also and you would find the pulp and the seed – both of these would be used for the dish.

Figure 2: Boiled stage – potato, chillies, yongchak and fava beans. Photo courtsey - Sapam Shyamananda

 

Figure3 : Yongchak Iromba. Photo Courtsey- sapam shyamananda

Yongchak Shingju: Shingju is again a preparation made with the same base – a thick sauce made from red chillies and ngari (fermented fish). Here, the vegetables are added mostly in raw form. A shingju is the equivalent of a spicy salad in the Manipuri cuisine. For the yongchak shingju preparation, it is the tender ones that are often used while for the iromba, it is the more mature ones that are prefered, although there is no restriction as such. The only link of shingju I was able to find was http://www.gomanipur.com/your-story/item/206-yongchak-singju . For those unfamiliar with Manipuri cuisine, once again let me add a few lines of my own. Scrap off the thin green skin from the yongchak. Then remove the thick sides of the beans. Now, shred the beans into thin pieces.

Personally my preference for the base sauce is to roast the red chillies and the ngari. Then mash them with salt properly. Avoid putting more than a little water – the less watery the sauce, the better the dish. Toss the shredded beans with the sauce and mix it up properly. Add garnish of spring onion, lomba leaves/flowers. My mom adds her own touch to it. Along with the herbs, she garnishes it with slightly crushed roasted shrimps.  

Besides these preparations, it is used in several other dishes. The less cited delicacy from the same vegetable is the shingju prepared from its flower. Because it was less cited and less talked about as compared to the beans and its bombs, I thought it was less sought-after. I wondered perhaps that this was not less available in the market but I stand corrected. It is apparently very much available in the markets also but unlike the other two popular parts of the same vegetable, it travels less. I have not seen it arriving much in Delhi, at least.For a clearer picture of the yongchak and of the iromba dish, check out http://www.mbobo.net/food-vegetable-manipur.html

As winter closes in, the yongchak season also gets over. By the time of Cheiraoba feast in March/April, the ‘bombs’ makes their appearance drapped in ‘overcoats’. The Manipuris have a simple way of preserving their favourite winter vegetable. They select the mature beans and simply hang it up to let it dry. The deep green beans are allowed to turn black. Either they continue to hang like so or they may be taken down to be de-seeded. The seeds are then stored. As and when they are needed, they are taken out and soaked to be used for cooking. The seeds are black on the outside but it is the inner kernel of deep green that is eaten. It is this black covering that is nicknamed ‘overcoat’.

Keep reading more stories about yongchak  www.ingallei.wordpress.com.

© itiriti

In quest for “Bengali” food in Delhi

On a cold evening, while I was unpacking, I received a call from my friend that they have discovered a place close to C.R. Park which serves “authentic” Bengali dishes and not too overpriced. Considering it was almost month end and we could spare Rs 250 per head we decided to opt for the home delivery option of this place. A quick search on google led us to the world of City of Joy- a restaurant tucked away in Aravali Shopping Complex, Alaknanda. After a listing of the menus which comprised of Bhetki Paturi, Railway Mutton Curry and Chicken DakBanglow we settled for Maa er hater atar roti ( thats what the Menu card calls Roti/ most commonly known in North India as Tawa Roti). A friendly voice listed the orders and took exactly 45 min to home deliver.

We were highly impressed by the taste and the quantity. Paturi tasted divine. The cynic that I am I thought this would be a one time performance and yesterday on a note of emergency  I called them up to check around 2.30pm if they would home deliver after 3pm since I was expecting a friend who had missed her lunch. They agreed to take the order around 3pm and the lunch spread was usually grand. I kept my fingers crossed as I unwrapped the Paturi and Aloo Posto ( Potato and Poppy seed paste) hoping that nothing should go wrong since this was practically the last order and the chefs must be retired souls. To our amazement the greenpeas stuffed kachoris were done to perfection. I could visualise the fluffy texture it might have had if I had eaten it in their restaurant. My friend was highly impressed and like a good foodie she said she does not think if any of the leftovers would make its way to my dinner. Content and relieved I said to my mind thank you City of Joy for being there.

I would recommend this place to anybody who is willing to explore Bengali cuisine as they offer quite a variety of vegetarian and non- vegetarian options which usually does not find its way to the Menu cards. Dishes like Posto Narkel Bora (a fried preparation of Poppy seeds, coconut), Data Chachori,  Echorer Guli Kofta ( Kofta of Jackfruit), mouri foron diye kalai er dal ( a lentil preparation with sauf), the list is endless and I would suggest you could browse their website www.cityofjoydelhi.com for details. 

You can also visit their restaurant which is quite cosy in its own way. So, next time you want to dig into some Bengali delicacy you can explore this place. Usual disclaimers apply: Some items are seasonal and subject to availability, particularly items to be sourced from West Bengal.

©itiriti

Monohora- a tale of preservation technique

Each sweet biography in Bengal is laced with fascinating tales and Monohora- a sweet invented by artisan/s from Janai a village tucked away in Hooghly district of West Bengal is no exception. Monohora which literally in Bengali means one who steals the heart till date continues to be a favourite among sweet lovers. Unlike other sweetmeats, the genesis of this fascinating sweet remains unknown still one of the legends associated with Monohora biography is that one of the Moiras ( a caste group associated with sweetmeat business; nowadays it is referred to confectioners) from Moira para (neighbourhood of the Moiras) was entrusted by the then zamindar to prepare a sweetmeat. The zamindar (head of the village) left for some work and returned behind his scheduled arrival. The Moira was worried that the sandesh would go bad. He coated a lump of Sandesh in a  thick sugar syrup so that the sandesh would not go bad. When the zamindar returned, he tasted the sweet and remarked that the sweet has stolen his heart and hence the name Monohora ( in Bengali it literally implies “je monk e horon korechche”- one who has stolen my heart).

Stage 1 : Sandesh

In my several visits to Janai I have heard senior artisans and residents of the area recounting me this fascinating tale over Monohara- a sweet Janai is very proud of. Usually like all sweet shops across Bengal the chchana ( the cottage cheese) is mixed with sugar in a huge wok (kadai) with a wooden ladle ( tadu). Since there is a sugar coating, special care is taken so that the sandesh is not too sweet ( usually for 1 kg chchana 300gms of sugar is used). Some shops go tha extra mile to add cardamom, pistachio to the mix. The sugar syrup is prepared with due care. It is slightly thick in consistency and once it cools the round lumps of sandesh are dipped in the sugar syrup and allowed to rest for two hours. Your Monohora is ready to serve.

Stage 2: Sugar Syrup ( Ras) for Monohora

Monohora is priced betwee Rs 3-10 across shops in Janai Bazaar which is a 10 minute distance from Janai Station ( if you want to reach Janai from Bardhaman via Cord line). So in case you are free this weekend plan a gateway from the hustle bustle of Kolkata head to Janai for a sweet trail. Please do not request shopkeepers to give you plastic bags as they have been banned.

Stage 3: Sandesh is coated in sugar syrup

Last stage : Raisins are added and allowed to cool for 2-3 hours

Two shops I would hugely recommend around the Janai bazaar are Kamal Moira’s sweet shop (a shop without name plate) and opens around 11.30am. You can land there by 3pm for a fresh serving of Monohora. In case you are pressed for time you can head to Maa Kali Mistanna Bhandar as well. The shop is run by Tarun Das and his sons Pradip Das and Dilip Das. They sell another hugely popular sweetmeat Boro Bonde ( it is a fried sweetmeat and tastes like the usual bonde but slightly bigger size).

Next time when you complain of sugar coating of Monohora remember to take the coating off and eat it. Monohora is truly the sweet that marks the first sign of preservation of sweets before refrigeration methods entered the confectionery industry.

" you have to take off the coating to have a real taste of Monohora"- artisan

©itiriti