Meals on the go : Indian Railways

In one of the brilliant sessions I attended in the university, the speaker recounted the omlettes and puri alu that used to be sold in Itarsi Railway Station. Indian Railways is synonymous with cutlets, omlettes, Railway mutton curry and tomato soup with croutons. The list is endless. Here one needs to categorise the foods available in local trains and the food in long distance express trains. Travelling by Indian railways meant not only changing landscape but changing foodscape. No South bound train will be complete with vendors selling vada, idli and other items. Friends in hostel shared several interesting anecdotes of missing train while they packed several packets of Vijaywada biryani. Similarly as Poorva express rolled into Mughal Sarai Junction vendors called out for puri alu and Rampyari ki chai. Indian railways was sympathetic to the dietary concerns and no fish lover irrespective of their political affiliation will forget the introduction of Fish Fry in the menu of Sealdah- Delhi Duronto Express. Junction stations had canteens where people could rest their backs and have a leisurely meal. The ‘canteens’ were once meant for passengers travelling in third class.
The connection between food and Indian railways is beyond canteens, refreshment rooms at stations and even pantry cars. Family vacations meant food being cooked and stocked in steel tiffin carriers with partially disposable cutlery. The whiff of the tiffin carrier would tell you about their whereabouts. What I miss in train journeys though is sitting against the window gazing outside and holding onto my cup of tea – a shot that I want to live through like Nayak. After I watched Nayak, I started to fantasize myself in the shoes of Sharmila Tagore’s character. I even made myself a thick pair of glasses. If you remember the scenes, you will find flower vases and tables laid out and the intense conversation between Sharmila and Uttam Kumar, as the hero (nayak) holds his cigarette in his signature style. Every time I watched this film I visualized what it would be to enjoy a meal in this set up. This fantasy was put to rest with time as the history books and archives reminded us that the setting of the fanstasy was accessible to the passengers who could travel in the first class compartment. Robert Maitland Brereton was assigned the herculean task of connecting 6400 kms and you will be surprised that in 1870, the Eastern Indian Railway train connecting Allahabad and Jabalpur apparently had a luxurious restaurant car with butlers, chefs and ala carte menu. In 1903 express trains and mail trains had dining cars. Madhulika Dash in her fascinating article points to four kinds of refreshment rooms available in stations – European, Muslim, Vegetarian Hindu and Vegetarian Hindu. One of the dishes from this golden era that has made its entry into the menu of fine dining restaurants is Railway mutton curry served in first class compartments. What is interesting is that these meals were cooked in the trains.
Later we have pantry cars. Railway food reflects the colonial past in the cutlets, omlettes that are sold along with an idea of continental menu. What has always puzzled me is the combination of chowmein and fried chicken along with bread and macaroni in a creamy white sauce. Yet, if you were hungry and wanted a quick meal you could walk up to the pantry and it would come to your rescue. I still remember parents of young children walking around with baby food to be heated or cooked from the scratch. Despite the runny dal, and glistening brown egg curry you knew you did not have to worry. In the recent times, pantry cars are being withdrawn. Usually you will find boys from some designated stations calling out khana khana Comesum, Comesum… If you are a smart traveler you can also order subway sandwiches, thali and other delicacies.
Though the connection between food and travel remains, our choices and preferences have shifted with the aid of technology and it remains to be seen how railway food evolves amidst multicuisine food available in every railway stations or through applications. Canteens remain a ubiquitous feature of Indian railways and time will tell how these canteens survive the test of time.
1; Accessed on 24 October 2016


Notes on gifts and gifting

Yesterday one of the posts from the column – guestspeak popped up on facebook timeline and P enquired if I have decided to abondon the blog. I replied I have been lazy. As I was strolling into the kitchen I spotted two momo steamers. It is no secret that I am a momo and dumpling fanatic and of late I have lost my craving for momos thanks to mayonaisation. Over the past few years momos have emerged as a street food across Delhi and there is a make shift momo stall near many a metro stations and bus stops across the capital. Nutri nuggets has infiltrated the chicken momos, we even have tandoori momos and we have started dipping momos in mayonnaise. If you think is it going to be another nostalgic trip? Yes, you are right. As I wrapped and stacked away one of the momo steamers I remembered that ten to eleven years ago I was so enamoured by momos that I gifted one of my dearest friends a momo steamer for her wedding, without removing the price sticker. To my defense, I had never bought wedding gifts and since I thought we loved momos so the most logical thing was to gift her a steamer for her new kitchen. Many years later when I recounted this incident to one of my friends he said that it speaks of a special bond.
True. A decade has passed by and today as my old fridge stopped working I received a whatsapp image of the beautiful kitchen garden she has been working on for months. She told me of the saplings that she is nurturing in egg shells to gift me. I told her that I will keep aside a planter to plant the saplings as soon as he gifts me. Over the years, I have come across people who are passionate about food and take a keen interest in my work on food. Two of the most exciting gifts I have received are two art works. One is titled Dey’s special Dilli Dekho Trips and the other a Delhi food map which has a very pointed instruction – Map to point, not to scale  I would be ashamed to list down the books which I have acquired through coercion, coaxing and reciprocity. Next comes cutlery sets and kitchen utensils which friends have gifted me over the years. Finally, spice box sets and tea collections. I might be missing out few things related to food and kitchen that have not made its way into the list. Over the years I have started gifting friends interesting, quirky items and however my penchant for utilitarian items has not fizzled. Latest entry into that long list of gifts exchange is a pressure cooker bought for a friend to celebrate her 30th birthday.
Gifts come with a pressure of parting and it would be worthwhile reflecting on gifts we have found it difficult to part with. I will keep aside such confessions and turn your attention to my mother and her sister’s gift exchanges of tiffin box and a dear friend’s possession of gifts bought for her friends. My mother and her sister shared a common fondness and anxiety of possessing tiffin boxes. My mom and aunt had an eye for tiffin box of all makes and sizes to keep left over foods. They fondly gifted each other tiffin boxes and as years went by their collection increased. During one such gift exchanges my mother gifted her a tiffin box to realise that she had exactly gifted her the same tiffin box three years ago. On other hand, my aunt gifted a tiffin box to my mother. She started using it and it so happened that she ended up returning one of the same tiffin box thinking that my aunt had sent homemade goodies. I have never seen my mother buy a tiffin box ever since my aunt passed away. She has decreased her visit to the utensil market but her incessant complaints about lack of tiffin boxes has not ceased but to this date she regrets for mistaking a gift.
On the other hand, a friend of mine has a particular tendency of not being able to part with gifts she buys for others. She bought a beautiful book, wrote a sweet note for me and kept it in her bookshelf. When she realized that she was not able to part with it she decided to gift me another one. She thought its best to buy and gift a thing immediately before she develops any attachment. As I had some engagement she hung around in my neighbourhood for hours and landed up in my place mid-night so that it won’t find its way into her kitchen.
Hence it’s best to say that there are several emotions attached to gifts and gifting. Each culture has its own rules associated with gifts. As we step into the festive season and work on our checklists to buy gifts it would be worthwhile to step aside and think of moments of joy, reluctance and anger we have experienced in gift-exchange.


Photo- essay : ‘Shakahar pradarshani’ in Jain Group of Temples, Khajuraho

As we made our way through the Jain Group of Temples in Khajuraho we stumbled upon this gem – a permanent exhibit on vegetarianism.

An exhibition dedicated to vegetarianism

An exhibition dedicated to vegetarianism



Factsheet about death rate among egg-eaters and non-egg eaters

Factsheet about death rate among egg-eaters and non-egg eaters

Could not make sense of this !

Could not make sense of this !

World famous veg personalities !!

World famous veg personalities !!

Religion and Vegetarianism

Religion and Vegetarianism

Things to do and not to do - How to be a good child?

Things to do and not to do – How to be a good child?

Medicalisation, health benefits and much more

Medicalisation, health benefits and much more


Notes from my kitchen : Beetroot carrot soup

My fondness for beet root began while doing errands for my mother’s special treat in winter evenings. Beetroot chop. Anybody familiar with Kolkata’s chop, cutlets will remember the burst of colours in this vegetarian chop. One of the standard tasks that I was entrusted with was washing vegetables. Needless to say I hated it, till it came to running the beet root cubes under cold water and watch the purple water coat my fingers. Sigh…

The winter chill has set in the capital and food cravings are an all time high. In an attempt to stick to deadlines, I have resorted to cooking one pot meals for some time now and today as I wrapped up a section I decided to treat myself to beetroot-carrot soup.  Armed with a beetroot, one carrot, half a slice of onion, two green chillies, slices of ginger, two sliced garlic pods, coconut milk, half a tea spoon of olive oil I set out to make this gorgeous chunky soup.  Roughly dice the beetroot, carrots and pressure cook it. I do not add salt to the water while boiling. Once the vegetables are boiled, shift it to a blender or in absence of one (like mine) use the pestle to mash the carrots and beetroots.


Take a pan, add half a tea spoon of olive oil. Add sliced garlic, onions, ginger, chopped green chillies and fry them till the onions are cooked.


Now add the mashed beetroot-carrot to the mix. Fry them lightly. Add salt and a pinch of sugar. Fry it for some time.


Add coconut milk to the mix and cook for a while. You might need to add half a cup of water in case you are using thick coconut milk.


Bring to a boil and it is ready to serve.


Let me tell you this soup is going to brighten up your day and lift up your mood. Time to wind up and get back to work. Drop me a line after you add your own twist while making this gorgeous soup.




Season 4 of Indian version of Master-Chef turns “vegetarian” to promote healthy living!

Master-Chef India Season 4 has come up with a novel idea to make it an only vegetarian cooking show. Some of us who followed the show and constantly compared it to its Australian counterpart hoped it will get better. Little did we imagine that it will take a vegetarian de-tour? Some of us will remember that the three previous winners of Master Chef India had displayed an avid range of cooking techniques with vegetarian and non-vegetarian ingredients. Who would forget Shipra Khanna’s yam mousse, or Vijaylakshmi and Shazia’s challenge with scallop in Hong Kong in Season 2? Having watched, savoured Season 1 and Season 2, it was a dream to pick up and combine leaves, stems, roots, shoots, flowers with red and white meat and work a charm on marine life for many an amateur cooks.

The famed Amul Parlour which once saw home chefs struggling with unfamiliar veg and non-veg ingredients will now see the cooks honing their skills on vegetables. In defence this move one of the judges, one my all-time favourite Chefs of India chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s comments left me awestruck. He acknowledges that India is primarily vegetarian and we have managed to come up with a vegetarian counter-dish to almost all global non-vegetarian dishes1. Is the show’s intent to re-produce vegetarian counterparts from across global cuisines or to train a chef who will be skilled in all cooking related work from having an eye for the ingredients to cutting, chopping, slicing as well as developing new techniques. Dear Mr. Kapoor, every time you smiled and suggested a remedy in your Khana Khazana show aired on Zee TV I remember my mother and aunt meticulously taking down your advice. In other words, while substitutes ( ingredients, techniques or appliances) are one way of cooking, skills of a masterchef lies in familiarity of ingredients and cooking techniques and this was one such platform for amateur cooks to cook with caviar, scallop, snail as well as bamboo shoots, flowers and yams and the past seasons have beautifully showcased some of these ingredients.

The treatment of ingredients over fire, water and in conjunction with air has been the key to cooking techniques across ‘India’ n cultures. Let’s take air. Fermented foods across India have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Air does so much to our food. From dosa- idly batters, to fermented soya bean, fish and even the delicious pork fat which is used for cooking I hear. Fermentation is one of the age old preservation techniques and mastery over wheat crop as Michael Pollan in his work Cooked tells us is a telling tale of our tryst with bread and brewing. Cooking techniques involve a close association and familiarity with our ecology and ingredients. Such associations, in the age of TRPs can also be utilised to be familiar of vegetables, marine life, animals and insects eaten and consumed across Indian geography.

Why do we need to create a show for only vegetarian cooks? What is the urgency? The necessity stems from health concerns. Hang on. One of the officials ( Gourav Banerjee of Star Plus) “more vegetarians means less cholesterol”( see the article Economic Times).  Wow!!!  I understand the health concerns of industrial food giants and the recent packaging efforts to make us aware of the unsaturated fat we consume to the cleverly packaged probiotic products to Food Safety and Standards Authority of India joining hand adopting Codex Alimentarius guidelines and prescribing food safety guidelines to ensure microbiological count of various products do not exceed a certain limit so that we are safe. Clearly, we have come a long way. Food associated health risks have been created due to multiple factors and our complex work hours, lack of exercise coupled with erratic eating habits particularly of industrial food giant dependent comfort goods has increased the risk. Health concerns of a cooking show in that sense could bring forth these elements and promote a sustainable food supply chain.

No, such expectations from a show which has to meet a requisite TRPs to ensure its own sustainability is a little far-fetched. At least one of the sponsors of the two that has partnered with Master Chef India had a dream parlour to boast off(  which included non-vegetarian items). I have already mentioned about the famous Amul Parlour sponsored by Amul- a company with a strong foothold in the dairy market. Media reports suggest that there is a second sponsor Adani- Wilmar who markets Fortune Oil at play here. Media reports suggest Adani Group’s study has shown a move away from meat products and substituting with alternatives2. Do we smell soya here?

The linkages between health and vegetarianism are misplaced here. A cooking show should have shown restraint if not courage in coming up with a better explanation for being an only vegetarian show and by de-facto excluding a large section of amateur cooks who experiment with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. While the previous seasons celebrated fusion food through a combination of techniques and ingredients, the vegetarian move at the outset excludes a lot of recipes, techniques as well. It also restricts the show’s format to be experimental with ingredients. This year I was hoping a lot more variety ( a lot more surprise) in terms of shoots and flowers that would make inroads in Master Chef Kitchen along with silkworm, fermented fish and ants. May be I was hallucinating! May be I represent a minority of the population who has not switched to meat alternatives, not a vegetarian but enjoy leaves, shoots and flowers, eats fish and meat and sadly Master Chef India Season 4 you have left me disappointed.


1 For detailed comments read Vasudha Vengopal’s article “ Why did Amul and Adani sponsored MasterChef go all vegetarian?”; Accessed on 20 November 2014.

2 Rajyasree Sen’s “Dear Sanjeev Kapoor, no non-veg on Master chef is a terrible, stupid idea”; Accessed on 20 November 2014


Shil-Nora : Prized possession of a Bengali kitchen

I dread my mother’s phone calls after her favourite food show: Ajker Ranna in Doordarshan. Though many of us have ditched Doordarshan my mother follows this show closely. I tease her that she should win the best audience award. During one of the stray mother-daughter conversations she mentioned with pride Sarmistha (one of the popular names in Bengali cooking shows) has advised to use shil-nora to grind mustard paste as mustard peels get separated in a mixer. The mustard paste tastes better when ground into a paste in shil-nora, concluded my mother as the mustard is pressed with equal pressure which crushes the peels and the seed. Shil- Nora is one of my mother’s favourite tool kits. She has resisted kitchen technology of mixers and grinders and no paste, crushed spice is complete for her without the touch of shil-nora. A very dear friend, a self-proclaimed short cut cook but a great baker swears by her shil-nora for her poppy seed paste (posto bata).

Bata or creating a paste occupies a special position in Bengali cuisine. Mrs J. Haldar in her book Bengal Sweets calls this technique as braying or grating. She points to two derivatives of braying/ grating; i.e., pulp and paste. She explains that shil is the stone slab and nora is the stone muller.  It has to be polished regularly so that its edges remain sharp. Some carvers often engrave fish or other designs on the stone slab. It is used widely in Bengali wedding rituals as well. As a child I loved watching the hawker engravers engraving beautiful patterns on the stone slab.

Though its use in most households has been limited to making pastes of poppy seeds and mustard seeds and its use in everyday kitchen like my mother’s can range from making a lovely grainy paste of coriander- cumin and ginger paste used in lightly spiced gravy of a thinner consistency called jhol to grinding spices. The coriander, cumin and ginger paste lends a lovely body and flavour to the daily jhol rituals in everyday cooking in Bengali kitchens. Another wonderful and limited use of shil-nora is extended to pasting leaves and peels. Leaves of the humble bottle gourd vegetable are made into a fine paste and eaten with piping hot rice it tastes heavenly. Similarly raw banana peel paste with garlic, chillies and a little salt tastes divine. Humble pudina chutney made from pudina leaves, chillies and salt is a perfect accompaniment with any fried snacks. Diced small tomatoes (of green and red colour) when ground into a paste with a little dash of mustard oil, chillies, and salt is perfect accompaniment to a rice on a rainy evening. Shil- nora can be also be used for grinding pulses. The beautiful ras bara made from urad dal / biuli/ kalai dal tastes much better when the pulses are soaked and ground into a paste. Similarly, the whiff of lightly soaked green peas paste on a shil-nora signals the preparation of green peas kachori (disc shaped fried bread with a filling of green peas mix). The uses of shil nora are clearly varied so are its looks. My mother uses two sets of shil nora: one for all vegetarian purposes including rituals to prepare coconut paste for chandrapuli ( a moon shaped sweet prepared from coconut and sugar) and one for everyday purposes.  Shil Nora in my mother’s kitchen is entitled to a two day ritual rest on account of ranna pujo. Technology’s non-ritual character becomes explicit in days like these when my sister in law and I brought out the mixer grinder to make a poppy seed paste to give a finishing touch to the prized hilsa. As hilsa fish steamed away in poppy seed /mustard seed paste, nobody protested our use of mixer grinder. May be such exemptions do not apply to kitchen tools of industrial giants.

My mother’s fascination for her prized shil-nora has translated into my penchant for stone mortar and pestle which occupies a special position on the kitchen top and it has been part of my culinary life for four years now.

Do you share such obsessions with kitchen tools? Do write in to share kitchen tools anecdotes. Till then happy feasting!


Thukpa tales with Dilip Bhujel

For all those who have read my previous post, Dilip Bhujel needs no introduction. By profession, Mr. Bhujel is a cook and knows to dish out many a dishes and he decided to share with me one of his signature items – thukpa. Thukpa needs no introduction. A hearty noodle soup and one of my favourite mid-week dinner item in winters and monsoon. If you are a fan of one pot meals, I recommend you to try this dish, in Dilip Bhujel’s style.

The chef of the day

The chef of the day

Dilip Bhujel while sharing with me the basic ingredients   adds, “The trick is to use mustard oil”.  So, for food lovers, this is a Nepali style thupka. As I scribble that in my diary, he unpacks three pieces of chicken legs (with skin), gives it a wash and adds it to a pressure cooker. After that he adds a handful of salt, a dash of coriander powder and a lovely helping of pepper and rubs it gently over the chicken pieces and pricks the chicken with his knife. As he washes his hands to chop vegetables, he tells that its best to pressure cook the chicken pieces with bones and skin.

stage 1

He takes out his chopping board, slices two medium sized onions, dices up half a tomato and finely chops five to six tiny pods of garlic to the chicken. After a spoonful drizzle of mustard oil and two cherry tomatoes he pours boiling water and pressure cooks it for a good twenty minutes. Now the next stage is to dress up the egg noodles. He adds egg noodles to a pot of boiling water and let it bubble way as the lovely pieces of chicken get its due resting time in the pressure cooker. He takes off the lid of the pressure cooker and strains the beautiful glossy soup to a pot. He scoops out the shreds of boiled chicken and the shredded chicken looks juicy and tender, and smells of the goodness of tomatoes, onions and garlic.

stage 2

He settles to prepare the sauce. First he boils three tomatoes, and peels them. He takes a handful of mint leaves, two pods of garlic, green chillies. Manju Bhujel joins in and takes out the grinding stone to make a nice paste of mint leaves, mashed tomatoes, garlic chillies and salt.


Dilip layers the noodles, adds the soup and tops it with lovely shredded chicken, with his special sauce on the side and finishes off with freshly chopped lemon grass. This was one of the perfect one pot meal to celebrate a rainy day, end of a short trip and beginning of new friendships.

If you are planning to stay indoors to enjoy the rains, I am sure you will enjoy cooking and eating this comfort food in Dilip Bhujel’s style sitting by your window.

Enjoy the showers and keep cooking!


What’s brewing in Makaibari?

If you are a romantic who loves the mist, and rains in hills and never misses a chance to escape to the hills, here I present to you Makaibari. Makaibari is a popular a halting point for tea connoisseurs and tea lovers enroute to Darjeeling, a hill station nestled in Northern part of West Bengal and a favourite with Bengalis trying to escape the heat and humidity of Kolkata. This time, I decided to stop over at this sleepy place on our way back from Darjeeling and I suggest you to take a little de-tour and stop by at Makaibari, Kurseong.

photo 1

Makaibari needs no introduction for passionate tea lovers. Known for its signature organic tea, this was also the first tea factory in the world.  This factory was built in 1859 and as the brochure claims this is also “the only tea estate in Darjeeling to never have been owned by an Englishman”. Who was the founder? G.C. Banerjee was the genius behind Makaibari Tea Estates in 1859.  For a long time, till very recently this was a family run business under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee who has been instrumental in changing the economic model of tea plantation.  Makaibari was the official partner in Beijing Olympics and as one of the locals pointing out to the empty store proudly adds that it is being served in FIFA World Cup in Brazil as well. Makaibari, is much more beyond a cup of tea.  Under the leadership of Rajah Banerjee (the fourth generation of the Banerjee family) who spearheaded the concept of sustainable living through homestay and other initiatives, Makaibari recently has changed hands. Mr. Banerjee, as a newspaper article in TOI claims has sold off majority stake to Luxmi Group and remains the Chairman of Makaibari Tea & Trading Co. Ltd.1

photo 2

Rajah Banerjee has not only introduced a signature tea, but has also successfully introduced sustainable tourism with volunteers under a Volunteer in Makaibari scheme, offering homestay facilities in the area. Volunteer in Makaibari, as the name indicates is a community run homestay facilities provided by more than 20 households. Each household has a guest room with an attached bathroom. The host family not only provides the guests with housing but three delicious sumptuous meals, and endless cups of tea. Volunteer in Makaibari also arranges for guided tours along the Makaibari tea estates, tea tasting sessions as well as a guided tour of the factory. As our hired alto halted infront of Vounteer in Makaibari’s (VIM) office which is at a stone’s throw distance from Makaibari factory, Nayan Lama ( one of the frontrunners of VIM) greeted us and took us to Dilip Bhujel’s house.  I followed Mr. Raj Bhattacharya’s ( and had specially requested Nayan to give us Dilip Bhujel’s house.

photo 5

Dilip Bhujel and Manju Bhujel’s house overlooks the Kurseong valley. They were our hosts for a night. It was drizzling when we reached Makaibari. Our welcome drink was local Makaibari tea followed by a lunch spread of rice, dal, papad, bhindi subzi and omelette. After that we decided to call it a day and soaked in the mist, sun and warmth of the place. Soon tea arrived and as darkness set in glistening lights of the Siliguri town seemed like a million floating candles. It was time to settle for dinner over piping hot rotis, dal, chicken and fried potatoes. After such sinful indulgence it was time to cosy upto the warmth of the blankets and say goodnight to the Bhujel family.

photo 6

We woke around 6am to a misty morning. As soon as the sky cleared, we decided to have a quick breakfast and head for our trail to the tea factory and estate along with our guide Pranay. Pranay and Nayan are actively involved with Volunteer in Makaibari. In peak seasons, to cater to the demands they hire more volunteers. Apart from homestay projects, Volunteer in Makaibari is also planning to start a café with local delicacies ( momos, thupka and chang ). Pranay, our guide for the day took us to the Makaibari factory. He gave us a tour through the various stages of processing and then we headed for the hike towards the tea estate. The never ending, winding road led us to the lush tea gardens. Pranay was keen to show us how tea leaves are plucked. Despite the painstacking work the workers continue to be paid abysmally low.

As we walked through the pebbled path we could hear the construction activities of the much advertised Chia Kutir project of Ambuja Group2. As we struggled to make our way through the road, to walk through the tea bushes, I could not miss the noise of the construction work that enveloped the rather peaceful, green lush valley. The signs of change have seeped in. May be the road leading upto the gardens will be motorable for the tourists who will flock to this area to experience Makaibari through this upcoming boutique resort called Chia Kutir. Some things will never be right.

The only ray of hope and for all the right reasons; remain Volunteer in Makaibari with their homestay projects. If you want to soak in the rain, mist and charms of the hills and want to take a weekend break visit Makaibari with Volunteer in Makaibari. Enjoy the rains, brew a cup of second flush, pick your favourite book and pack a few clothes for your monsoon weekend at Makaibari.

photo 4


1; Accessed on 21 June 2014.

2;Accessed on 21 June 2014.


Contact Details

Volunteer in Makaibari:  Nayan Lama:

How to reach:

Nearest Railway Station: New Jalpaiguri

Nearest Airport: Bagdogra

For other interesting places to visit in Kurseong, and Darjeeling visit


Sunday neighbourhood whiffs!

As the sunlight created a collage of graphic prints on my wall, I woke up to a rather familiar smell of Sunday morning. The hypnotising smell of “kalojeere” nigella/onion seeds dancing in bubbling mustard oil before green chillies are added. Such pleasures of familiarity are some of the perks I enjoy staying in the Bengali neighbourhood of Delhi. Such familiarity also deeply saddens me to prepare my rather mundane breakfast of toasts and tea.

As I pull myself out of the bed I imagine cubed potatoes being fried with a dash of salt and turmeric and finally water being poured in. By the time I prepare myself  a cup of Darjeeling tea and browse through “Robibashoriyo” ( Online edition) the final nail on the coffin is here i.e., the smell of the luchi ( disc shaped flour based flat bread) being fried in Lakshmi Ghee.  I recognise the distinct smell from my Mashi’s household (Maternal Aunt) preference for Lakshmi Ghee and my mother’s preference for oil (supposedly healthy!) which led to many a world war in the kitchen.

The overpowering smell of luchi and alur tarkari lingers on and takes me back to some funny moments from childhood. My mother was known for preparing white fluffy luchis and was coveted by G an M for “sada luchi” as if luchis could be red, yellow, or blue. Once, B now a handsome young man then 5 years old made this brilliant comment in a roomful of strangers, “I think they are preparing luchis upstairs. Ma, let’s go and have some luchis”. To save further embarrassment his mother got B upstairs and he walks in straight up to my mother and says “Jethin, amake luchi aar chini debe”( Jethin (aunt, elder brother’s wife), please give me luchi and sugar).  For all luchi fanatics, the last luchi should be savoured with sugar. And yours truly embarrassed the Oh! Calcutta waiters by asking for a bowlful of sugar to be savoured with luchis… Such luchi anecdotes are precious and the overpowering smell of late riser’s breakfast menu continues to increase my craving for luchi as I pen down this post.  It’s 11 a.m.

The smell of luchi will soon encounter the Sunday staple of “mangshor jhol”. Puritans like my dad, uncle and jethu will tell you that mangsho or meat refers to kachi pantha ( mutton). The ideal kochi panthar jhol will have potatoes that will carry the flavour of mutton and the cracked edges from the “jhol” or gravy. Jhol is our answer to “curry”- a runny gravy with rightly flavoured spices. The pressure cooker whistles will soon create the symphony of a Bengali Sunday lunch and a mirage of cravings for people who need to finish boring dishes like dalia khichdi that has been lying the fridge.

There you go. I can hear the first whistle, and I bet it must be from the pressure cooker cooking succulent mutton/ chicken pieces with potatoes – the prized Sunday lunch menu. The background score of kabariwala(scrap dealer and buyer) – kabari, kabari meets the fishmonger who draws up his cart shouting “bhalo chingri, katla rui”…

Such distractions of smell will never find an acknowledgement in my thesis but they are part of the woes and joys of writing. Another whistle goes… and I can smell the perfect whiff of paanchphoron crackling… May be time to prepare “green mango chutney” (aam chutney) or “paanch mishali sabji”(mix vegetables). I leave you to guess as to what dish my neighbours are cooking with paanchphoron in oil.

Do write in and let me know of  whiffs from your neighbourhood that leaves an imprint in your food rituals?


Spring feast over Qawali and Kebabs

As we approach the end of Winter Chill in Delhi it’s time to indulge amidst all the impending deadlines. As I write this post, the calendar and the deadlines that I have marked in bold stares at me with a mocking grin. Writing wishes feed into birthday wishes and much more. If you want to take a break from writing woes, take a break.  Such re-assurances are rare, and to steal a bright sunny MONDAY afternoon for such plans are some luxuries of being a student.

Last Monday afternoon, some of us decided to visit the newly renovated Humayun’s Tomb. Various sections of the historic Humayun’s Tomb have been renovated, restored in patches, blocks and columns. Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s team took six years to restore the complex and for more details on restoration work please read After a tour of the historic Humayun’s Tomb, we decided to walk down to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah (the shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, 14th C Sufi Saint). We had heard and read about the Basant celebrations at the Dargah. As we reached the Dargah dressed in our yellow clothes we realised that the celebrations have been shifted to the day of Basant Panchami.

Nevertheless, we were treated to wonderful qawali renditions by the qawals of the Dargah. Basant Panchami at the Dargah is a synthesthetic treat.  Poet Amir Khusro, whose grave lies at the complex had worn yellow to bring a smile to his beloved Hazrat Nizamuddin who was grieving after his nephew’s death. The tradition has continued and on this day, the qawals sing poems of Khusro. The spring festival of the Dargah is a visual treat as people are dressed in yellow and the mustard flowers and marigold flowers are offered at the shrine. For more details on Basant festivities at the Dargah visit  Do not miss the newly restored Mirza Ghalib’s Tomb on your way into the Dargah.

After the qawali, some of us headed back and some of swarmed through the serpentine lane and made our way to Ghalib Kebab Corner. Do not be misled with the poetic connection in the signboard.  It is named after Ghalib road that connects to the poet’s tomb.

The Signboard Photo : Hoda Bandeh- Ahmadi

The Signboard
Photo : Hoda Bandeh- Ahmadi

The signboard of the Ghalib Kebab Corner read that it had won the best kebab in the kebab festival hosted by Hotel Maurya Sheraton. Established in 1971, this place is a kebab lover’s delight. Apart from Paneer tikka and Paneer Tikka Roll, there are no vegetarian options here. The shop has a modest seating arrangement with six tables and benches and as soon as you enter you will be spoiled for choices with the cook spreading out mincemeat mix along the skewers… It is an appetizing scene in chilly winter evening.

The man behind the scenes Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

The man behind the scenes
Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

We settled for Beef Kebab Rolls, mutton shammi kebab, beef kebab and Sheer Mal.

Beef Kebab Rolls  Photo : Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi

Beef Kebab Rolls
Photo : Hoda Bandeh-Ahmadi

The juicy kebabs rolled like a wrap in romali roti melted in our mouth, the mutton shammi kebab had a lovely spicy touch to the mincemeat and the sheer mal added the perfect sweet touch to every bite of spicy shammi kebab… A treat and must visit!!!!

Sheermal and Beef Kebab Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

Sheermal and Beef Kebab
Photo: Siddhi Bhandari

The kebabs are priced between Rs 50 to Rs 100. Some of our friends recommended Mutton Qurma  but itiriti recommends you to try out their Beef Kebab Roll, Mutton Shammi Kebab and Sheermal. I am definitely going back for a lunch / dinner treat after I finish my chapter. So in case you are yet to plan your weekend stopover at Ghalib Kebab Corner for kebab treats!


Address: Ghalib Kebab Corner

Shop No : 57, Near Lal Mahal, Ghalib Road, Hazrat Nizamuddin, New Delhi-110013. Phone: 9810786479.

Nearest Metro Station to Nizamuddin: Jungpura ( on violet Line)