Category Archives: Food

MP cuisine: 25 must-have treats in Madhya Pradesh

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a culinary tour of Madhya Pradesh and come up with this definitive food guide of local eats

Kadhi fafda IMG_3427_Anurag Mallick

Like the proverbial heart of India, Madhya Pradesh’s cuisine too is a reflection of its central location. Bound by Bundelkhand and Mewar to the north, Gujarat to the west and Maharashtra to the south, MP has its own distinct culture and language, though its cuisine borrows some elements from neighbouring regions – be it Gujarati kadhi-fafda and khaman (dhokla) to Rajasthani style dal-baatichurma with a twist and the love for poha stemming from its proximity to Maharashtra and strong Maratha presence. Yet, MP has its own set of dishes and treats unique to certain places.

If Gwalior has its bedai and Jabalpur its badkul, then Burhanpur is known for its mawa jalebis, maande and daraba. Yet, all culinary journeys begin in Indore, the imperial city of the Holkars. “Sir ji, main keh riya hoon, Indore toh chatoron ka shahar hai” (Sir, I tell you, Indore is a city for snackers), exclaimed our driver Jitender. Despite the local fondness for namkeen (savoury snacks) and charkha (spicy) flavours, they love their sweets. So much so, that poha-jalebi is considered as acceptable as macaroni n’ cheese.

Sarafa Bazaar Indore IMG_3468_Anurag Mallick

Breakfast rests on the four pillars of samosa, kachori, poha and jalebi. Chhappan Dukaan, a precinct of ‘56 shops’, mostly food joints, is Indore’s answer to Mumbai’s Chowpatty. Visitors flock to local food legends like Vijay Chaat House and Johnny Hot Dog. By night, the party shifts to Sarafa, where jewellery shops down their shutters at dusk and food stalls reclaim the streets. Locals and tourists alike feast on garadu (deep fried sweet potato), sabudana khichdi, dahi bada, bhutte ka kees, kachori, desi pizzas, pasta and Maggi, besides desserts like mawa-bati, khoprapak (coconut-based sweet), shrikhand and malpua.

While Indore has its Sarafa, Bhopal too has a Chatori Gali, buzzing with food stalls selling kebabs, paaya (trotter soup) and an assortment of sweets that often end with a Bhopali paan. Most MPSTDC hotels also serve local specialties like Murgh Razala Bhopali (chicken in white gravy), Malwa ka bhatta bharta (baingan bharta), Dal-baati with churma laddoo and Ghuian (arbi) ki sabzi. Here’s a look at 25 typical treats from the region…

Gwalior bedai IMG_4792

1. Bedai
It’s neither a poori, nor a kachori, but something in between. At best, Gwalior’s local snack bedai is a poori stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for bedai, samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. And while you’re on the foodie trail, stop by at Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s legendary laddus (which had a big patron in former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee).

2. Badkul
It looks like a jalebi but tastes like a gulab jamun. Yes, it may sound like a puzzle, but Jabalpur’s version of a jalebi is made of khova and arrowroot batter. It is believed that the dark coloured sweet with a spongy texture was invented in 1889 by Harprasad Badkul, after whom it is named.

Khopra patties IMG_3255_Anurag Mallick

3. Khopra patties
A specialty from the western MP region of Malwa, khopra patties are golden-hued deep-fried aloo bondas with a stuffing of khopra (grated coconut) and dry fruits like cashews and raisins! Insanely delicious, it’s served with green mint-coriander chutney and red tamarind chutney. Try it at Vijay Chaat House in Indore or Amrit Sweets in Dewas.

Shikanji at Madhuram 56 Dukaan IMG_3270_Anurag Mallick

4. Shikanji
Not to be confused with Delhi’s lemonade of the same name, Indore’s shikanji is a thick, milkshake enriched with dry fruits. It is regarded as a concoction created by Nagori Mishthan Bhandar in Bada Sarafa, which still churns out a limited batch daily. Since it is a blend of various ingredients, it is called shikanji (literally ‘mixture’) made from kesar, elaichi, javitri, jaiphal, kishmish, mattha and milk reduced for 12 hours and cooled for another 12 hours before being served cold.

Shyam Sharma ji from Beawar in Rajasthan started a small sweet shop 35 years ago and called it Madhuram as he wanted a short and sweet name. Sporting a Krishna medallion, the cheery mustachioed owner, personally ladles out shikanji for visitors. “Aise gatak ke mat peena, ismein alag alag taste khojna!” (Don’t gulp it. Savour it slowly to discover its different hidden flavours). First shrikhand, then rabdi, dry fruit and milk. Affable Sharma ‘uncle’ literally force-feeds guests fluorescent green petha pan, another sweet invention.

Gajak IMG_5199

5. Gajak
A signature sweet from Bhind, Morena, gajak (sesame brittle) is mostly made of roasted sesame or peanuts and cashew, with jaggery and ghee. Nutty, crunchy and a snack that keeps you warm, gajak is a winter specialty with shops lined with these goodies. Anyone travelling to the region is expected to return with a mandatory pack. In Gwalior, Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar are trusted for their quality products.

Poha IMG_3914_Anurag Mallick

6. Poha
Poha or tempered beaten rice is the go-to brekker across MP. But unlike the Maharashtrian style poha, the Indori poha is much lighter with less use of oil and spices. It is topped with sev or mixture, chopped onion and coriander and served with a wedge of lime. Usually paired with hot scrumptious jalebis, you got to try it to believe it!

Jalebis IMG_3476_Anurag Mallick

7. Doodh-jalebi
In the winter months, you’ll often see milk being reduced in large kadahis (vessels) outside sweet shops and hot jalebis dunked in it and served. A Khandwa specialty, the town’s famous son Kishore Kumar often longed to leave Bombay and go back to his roots. His common refrain was, “Doodh-jalebi khayenge, Khandwa mein bas jayenge.”

Bhutte ka kees IMG_3498_Anurag Mallick

8. Bhutte ka kees
Maize, or bhutta as it’s locally called, is a common staple. Farmers harvest it and bring it by the tractor-loads to be sold on highways. Locals love it roasted on hot coals as a snack, with a smear of lime, salt and chili. Across Malwa, it is eaten as bhutte ka kees, made with grated corn (keesna means to ‘grate’), roasted in ghee and cooked in milk with spices. Sarafa Bazaar in Indore is the place to have it.

Baafla being cooked at Sai Palace Hotel Ujjain IMG_3707_Anurag Mallick

9. Dal-bafla
The traditional bread is bafla, a small ball of wheat dough. However, unlike Rajasthan’s fried baatis, the bafla is typically boiled in water, roasted over dung cakes on an iron griddle and dunked in ghee. It is served as a thali meal with dal, kadhi, aloo sabzi and chutneys of garlic and coriander, often rounded off with laddus. At Hotel Sai Palace near Mangalnath temple in Ujjain, turbaned stewards serve an unlimited meal for Rs.200. Their original eatery Hotel Rajhans at Sarafa in Indore was started 40 years ago by Shri Gyan Chand ji Raka.

Paaniya IMG_5103_Anurag Mallick

10. Dal-paniya
Corn is also used to make paniya or maize flour cakes, sandwiched between aak ka patta (leaves of Calotropis gigantea) and cooked on an open fire of dried cowpat. Best enjoyed at Hotel Gurukripa in Mandu, paniya is slightly bigger and flatter than a bafla, but served with the same accompaniments – dal, sabzi. onion and chutneys.

11. Chakki ki shaak
Another popular local delicacy, Chakki ki shaak is made of steamed wheat dough cooked in a curd-based gravy. Tapu, a local variety of wheat, is also used to make sweet cakes that are used in religious occasions and festivities.

Sev IMG_4590_Anurag Mallick

12. Sev
Sev is a savoury noodle-shaped snack made from chickpea flour paste seasoned with spices, sieved and deep-fried in oil. It is of varied thickness and is consumed as a stand-alone snack across MP or as a garnish on poha, mixtures or chaats like bhel puri and sev puri. Each region has its flavour variants – from Ratlami sev to finer Ujjaini sev. In Ratlam, you get long (clove) flavoured sev while in Indore, the lasuniya (garlic) flavoured sev is the rage. Shops sell a mind-boggling assortment of sev – palak (spinach), tamatar (tomato), dhaniya-pudina (coriander-mint) and hing (asafetida).

Sawariya Seth ki sabudana khichdi IMG_3444_Anurag Mallick

13. Sabudana khichdi
Sabudana or pearl sago is used to make khichdi (though its consistency is not like porridge but drier like poha or upma). At Indore’s Sarafa bazaar, Sanvariya Seth mixes the sago pearls by hand, tossing in some chopped onions, coriander, chili, lime juice and sev. He’ll even customize its spiciness for you.

Burhanpur's maand IMG_6270_Anurag Mallick

14. Maande
In the region of Khandesh abutting Maharashtra in southwest MP, the erstwhile Mughal bastion of Burhanpur is legendary for its maande (roomali rotis), hand stretched and tossed with flourish at roadside stalls. The workers dexterously fling the rotis on to the upturned tava and then to the take-away counter, where it is neatly folded into rectangles and taken home.

Burhanpur's daraba IMG_6364_Anurag Mallick

15. Daraba
Burhanpur’s signature sweet, though not so well known outside, is daraba, made of sugar, semolina and ghee whipped together into a fluffy consistency. The word daraba could be derived from the act of beating. Local INTACH convener and owner of Hotel Ambar Hoshang Havildar says the sweet used to be really soft and smooth earlier. “Isey ghoy ghot ke, ghot ghot ke banate they (They used to beat it for hours). It was so fine, if you touched it to your eye, you wouldn’t feel a thing.” Sold at Milan Sweets, it is relished during the annual Balaji ka Mela on the banks of the Tapti river.

Burhanpur jalebis IMG_0300

16. Burhanpur Jalebi
Unlike regular jalebis, the Burhanpur jalebi is made of mawa (khoa) and is quite popular at food stalls stretching from Bohri Mohalla to Minara Masjid in Mumbai or Mominpura in Nagpur during Ramzan. Thick and a little chewy, some add arrowroot to bulk it up, but it’s best enjoyed fresh in its city of origin at Burhanpur Jalebi Centre. Deep-fried to a chocolate hue, it is dunked in sugar syrup before being dished out to patrons.

17. Batla kachori
While kachoris are popular all over the country, in Indore it’s stuffed not with spiced lentils, but with batla (green pea). The best place to have it is Vijay Chaat House, started in 1969 by Dayashankar Thakar of Surat. Their flagship shop D Harishankar Dhanjibhai Bhajiyawala has been running in Surat since 108 years!

Kadhi fafda IMG_3423_Anurag Mallick

18. Kadhi-fafda
Another Gujarati touch, fafda (chickpea flour crackers) is typically served with kadhi or buttermilk based curry. Locals swarm shops like Shri Balaji Chaat Corner in Indore, dipping their fafdas in the tangy curry and biting into fried green chilis!

Khaman IMG_3564_Anurag Mallick

19. Fried khaman
While khaman (or dhokla as it’s better known) is universally loved, in western Madhya Pradesh it is also available in a fried version and sprinkled with chat masala. While regular khaman is made from besan, for the fried version only Surti khaman is used made from chana dal as it’s firmer and handles deep frying much better.

Baalam kakdi in Mandu IMG_4962_Anurag Mallick

20. Baalam kakdi
In Mandu and its surrounding regions, there’s a giant cucumber called baalam kakdi, which is served with salt, chilli and lime. Unlike regular cucumbers, it is lemon green in colour with a soft and fleshy pulp and a texture that’s more like steamed squash.

Mandu's Khorasani Imli IMG_4882_Anurag Mallick

21. Khorasani Imli
Malwa’s ancient capital Mandu is home to giant baobab trees, gifted by the Caliphs of Egypt to the sultans of Mandu sometime in the 14th century. Known as ‘dead-rat tree’ and ‘monkey-bread tree’ owing to the fruit’s strange shape and its popularity among simians, it is locally called Khorasani imli (tamarind from Khorasan, ancient Persia) and makes a good souring agent for curries like imli ki kadhi. It is deseeded and sold in packets by local vendors, along with other seeds, barks and agro produce.

22. Mawa Bati
Similar to a stuffed gulab jamun, the mava-based dough is filled with mava, dry fruits and nuts, deep-fried till brown and lightly soaked in sugar syrup. Sometimes, it is dusted with desiccated coconut powder.

Garadu IMG_3505_Anurag Mallick

23. Garadu
If Delhi loves its aloo chaat in winters, Indore goes weak-kneed for garadu, a tuber from the yam or sweet potato family. Cut into cubes and deep fried, it is sprinkled with chaat masala and a dash of lime before being devoured by locals.

24. Kadaknath
Another local specialty is a sooty country chicken called ‘Kadaknath’ endemic to the region. Charcoal black in colour, its blood is believed to be just as dark with even its skin tone being purple-grey. A connoisseur’s delight, this extremely rare fowl is sold at twice the price of a regular country chicken. However, it is not available on regular restaurant menus and patrons must procure it before it can be prepared!

Batteesi Chutney at Ahilya Fort Maheshwar IMG_5627_Anurag Mallick

25. Batteesee Chutney
Richard Holkar, royal scion of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, renovated the queen’s royal seat Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar and revived its weaving and cultural traditions. A gourmand, he also authored ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’ in 1975 and often joins his guests for conversations over a drink or meals. His creation, the legendary ‘Batteesee Chatni’ is a secret recipe involving as many as 32 ingredients. Ahilya Fort is also the perfect base for foodies to enjoy a Maheshwari maalish (massage) along with Maheshwar scrambled eggs (with onion, tomato, coriander), grilled baam (local river fish), chilled soups of carrot, ginger and sweet lime, homemade walnut and sunflower seed bread, banana upside down cake, besides Richard’s exclusive collection of cardamom and citrus preserves.
 Dal paniya thali at Mandu IMG_5115_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Vijay Chaat House
6-9, Chhappan Dukan, Indore Ph 0731-6541710
75/5, Bada Sarafa, Indore Ph 0731-6541709
http://www.vijaychaathouse.com
What to eat: Khopra patties, matar kachori, samosa, fried khaman

Madhuram Sweets
27, Chhappan Dukan, New Palasia, Indore
Ph 0731-253 0555
http://www.madhuramsweets.com
What to eat: Shikanji, Pan Mithai, sweets

Amrit Sweets
AB Road, Bawadiya, Dewas
Ph 07272-258580
What to eat: Poha, jalebi, samosa, kachori

Hotel Sai Palace
Sunder Van Dhani, Mangalnath Road, Ujjain Ph 9009293944
Near Rajkumar Hotel, Freeganj, Ujjain Ph 0734-4061888, 9009004830
What to eat: Dal-bafla thali

Hotel Gurukripa
Main Road, Mandu
Ph 98930 43496, 94250 34837
What to eat: Dal-paniya thali

Ahilya Fort
Ahilya Wada, Maheshwar, West Nimar 451224
Ph: 011-41551575 Email: info@ahilyafort.com
http://www.ahilyafort.com
What to eat: Batteesee Chutney, Maheshwari scrambled eggs & more

Milan Mithai
Main Branch, Gandhi Chowk, Burhanpur
Ph 07325-252315, 252295
What to eat: Daraba

Burhanpur Jalebi Centre
Subhash Chowk, Burhanpur
Ph 98262 72490
What to eat: Mawa jalebi

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared on 7 Feb 2018 on National Geographic Traveller India online. Here’s a link to the original piece: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/food-trail-in-madhya-pradesh-25-must-have-treats/  

 

 

 

 

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Native Spirits: Traditional alcoholic brews of India

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Throughout history, India’s traditional drinks menu has been full of potent, flavourful brews, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

Apong in Arunachal IMG_5430

While travelling across India is quite a high by itself, in all our forays, we love trying out the local tipple whenever it’s been offered to us. Be it feni or urak in Goa, bhang during Holi, apong in Arunachal Pradesh during the Sollung festival, kyad on a trek to a Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya, chhang to combat the Ladakhi winter, raksi in Sikkim and Nepal, taadi and handia with tribals in Jharkhand or saraph (salfi) and mahua in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha; we have happily imbibed Indian spirits in all its glorious forms wherever we have travelled…

The history of intoxication in India is as old as its gods. Like the Greek ambrosia or nectar, Hindu texts mention amrit or soma, the divine elixir that gave Vedic gods immortality. Agni consumed it in copious quantities and Indra drank rivers of soma for strength to overcome Vrittra, the fearsome three-headed dragon.

Zutho in Nagaland DSC05001

Soma, a Vedic Sanskrit word, literally “to distill, extract or sprinkle” is derived from the juice of the soma plant, ephedra vulgaris. The golden-hued drink was imbibed by mortals as well, since it enabled hallucinations and ecstasy. It often accompanied sacred rituals, helped warriors overcome battle nerves and inspired painters and poets into bursts of creativity. In fact, soma was considered a divine bridge between the mortal world and the realm of the gods.

Alcoholic beverages were known to the Indus Valley Civilization and appeared in the Chalcolithic Era between 3000–2000 BC. Wormwood wine was quite popular in India around 1500 BC. Sukla Yajur veda describes the preparation of two stimulating drinks – parisrut and sura, popular among kshatriyas (warriors) and peasants alike.

Apong in Arunachal IMG_7718

Agriculturists often set aside a portion of their produce for the fermentation of home brews. Made of rice, wheat, sugarcane, grapes and other fruits, sura was prepared with germinated paddy, germinated barley, parched rice and yeast. Katyayana Srauta sutra gives a comprehensive description for preparing sura.

Boiled rice or barley was mixed with the ferment and the entire mixture was kept in a jar, which was placed in a pit for three nights into which cow’s milk and powdered parched rice were poured. Sometimes the fermenting vessel was covered with horse dung or placed on a pile of grains or exposed to the sun or fumigated.

Bhang lassi IMG_6919

Another drink popular from pre-Vedic times is bhang, which has been consumed since 2000 BC. In the ancient text Atharva Veda, bhang is hailed as a beneficial herb that releases anxiety. An integral part of Hindu culture and often associated with Shiva, ascetics used bhang or cannabis as food, drink or smoke to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states.

From the streets of Mathura to the ghats of Benares and Omkareshwar, the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant are ground into a paste in a mortar and pestle and shaped into balls or pedas. Milk, dry fruits and Indian spices are added to make a bhang lassi or thandai, widely consumed during Holi.

Bhang lassi IMG_6916

During the time of Kautilya, popular Mauryan era drinks included medaka (spiced rice beer), prasanna (spiced barley or wheat beer), asava (sugarcane beer) and arista (medicinal tincture). However, modern day distillation of alcohol scaled new heights with widespread use in the Delhi Sultanate by the 14th century.

Over time, many rajwadas (royal families) and thikanas in Rajputana concocted their own signature brews for recreation or medicine, based on ingredients available locally and climatic conditions. Spices, saffron, fruits, dry fruits and stimulative agents were added for flavour and therapeutic value, distilled through copper pots and matured in wooden casks.

Elaichi from Rajasthan IMG_4305

Back in the day, many princely states had a separate department for liquors. Broadly, three types of liquors were prepared based on strength and refinement – Ikbara for the common man, Dobara for officers and upper middle class and Aasav, reserved only for royalty and nobility. Often referred to as ‘baap-dada ki daru’ in Rajasthan, some of these liqueurs even had aphrodisiacal qualities.

As per legend, Rana Hammir of Ranthambhore, the 14thcentury ruler of Mewar, had eleven wives but didn’t have the stamina to satisfy them all. One day, a saint gave him the recipe for a potion that would give him “the strength of a hundred horses”. And like a blissful royal tale, they all lived happily ever after. However, not all the royal brews were reserved for kings. It is said there was a honey-based brew with 21 spices that was meant for royal ladies that could make a 60-year-old queen behave like a 16-year-old teen!

Apong in Arunachal IMG_7721

One royal bastion that stands out for its heritage liquors is Mahansar, a thikana in Shekhawati founded in 1768 by Thakur Nahar Singh, second son of Thakur Nawal Singh of Nawalgarh. The Mahansar royal family’s legendary Saunf was brewed by fermenting gud (jaggery) and ber (Indian date) in an earthen pot for 15 days, distilled by adding milk, misrisaunf and other spices, stored in a ceramic vessel and matured for six years.

The resultant brew was aromatic, spicy and clear, with a dash of pale yellow. Mahansar has maintained its heritage liquor brewing tradition and old royal formulae. In 2006, Shekhawati Heritage Herbals began brewing Gulab, Saunf and Orange, mint and ginger royal liqueurs under three brands – Royal Mahansar, Maharani Mahansar and Maharaja Mahansar. It spurred a local industry of sorts, similar to the homemade wines of Coorg.

Coorg wines IMG_4464

During mid 18thcentury, ably guided by his kulguru, Thakur Karni Singh ji Shekhawat, descendent to a clan of Mahansar thikana, prepared various aasav, using herbs and spices like saunf (fennel), elaichi (cardamom), pudina (mint), dhaniya (coriander), fruit extracts like orange, apple, watermelon, berries and liqueurs like cider grape wine and gulab (rose). The word ‘julep’ was supposedly derived from an English mispronunciation of ‘gulab’. Royal brews like Rohitaasav, Kumari aasav, Kankaasav, Dus mul ka aasav and mahaverlane were made exclusively for the use of the royal families of Bikaner, Kashmir and Nepal, mainly for medicinal benefit.

In 1862, Thakur Zorawar Singh, part of the Champawat clan of the Rathores founded the prominent Kanota thikana. As a tribute to the royal houses of Jaipur, the Kanota family created the drink Chandrahaas in 1863 and named it after Lord Shiva’s indestructible sword. Since then, they have meticulously followed the original recipe of using nearly 165 herbs and spices like kesar, awlah, safed musli, jaiphal, amla ki chaal, white sandalwood and dry fruits.

Elaichi from Rajasthan IMG_4303

Amar Singh ji of Kanota thikana is known for writing the world’s longest continuous diaries. Maintained in English for 44 years from 1898 to 1942 in 89 folio volumes with 800 pages per volume, these precious notes include detailed recipes for dishes and heritage liquors. His heir Mohan Singh and his sons Man Singh and Prithvi Singh offer special royal thalis and Chandrahass at their Jaipur hotels Royal Castle Kanota and Narain Niwas, built by Amar Singh ji in 1928.

Legend has it that Amar Singh’s son-in-law, Raja sahib Karni Singh of Gadi thikana, was on his deathbed and all the efforts of the royal physician to cure him proved futile. When nothing seemed to work, the royal brewer requested for a chance and administered Chandarhaas. Sure enough, Raja sahib was back on his feet!

Bonda men carrying handia to a village haat in Odisha IMG_6083

The Shyopurs, who were in charge of the household affairs of the Kachhwahas (Jaipur’s royal family), have over three dozen recipes like Angoor, Ananas and Narangi, which is made with oranges and 18 herbs. The drink supposedly keeps the body cool in scorching summers and can be consumed “from dawn to dawn” and one still feels fresh as a daisy in the morning, without a hangover. Shyopur Narangi Ginger is made from fruits, two dozen spices and pineapple flavours!

Jagmohan, an ancient recipe from the royal house of Marwar in Jodhpur, is made of herbs, spices, dry fruits, seasonal fruits, murabba and bark, finely blended with milk, desi ghee, saffron and crystal sugar. Distilled in the royal cellars for the use of kings and princes, it was a drink for winters. It could be consumed on the rocks in summer as a post-meal dessert liqueur, though citrus and acidic drinks are best avoided with it. Similarly, Kesar Kasturi is made from exotic ingredients like saffron, dry fruits, herbs, nuts, seeds, roots and spices, blended with ghee, milk and crystal sugar.

Salfi in Odisha IMG_6170

Another liqueur Mawalin, from the royal house of Sodawas, 90 km from Jodhpur towards Udaipur, has 38 different ingredients including dates, dry fruits, herbs and two dozen spices. Local folklore says Maharaja Umaid Singh Ji of Jodhpur gave the recipe of Mawalin as jagir (aristocratic fiefdom) to Thakur Sahib Bishan Singh Ji of Osian. It is typically served “in a liqueur glass on a bed of crushed ice in summer and in a bowl of half-inch deep lukewarm water in winter.” A good appetizer, it has curative and medicinal properties, when taken in small doses.

To keep these unique traditions alive, Rajasthan State Ganganagar Sugar Mills (RSGSML) has launched Royal Heritage Liqueurs as a tribute to the state’s royal brewing legacy. The fermentation and distillation process used by the ruling thikanedars have been strictly adhered to with use of earthen pots, copper and brass utensils. We got to savour some of these brews with Raghavendra Singh at Fort Amla, a rustic-style heritage retreat in western Madhya Pradesh, bordering Rajasthan.

Handiya at a Santhal home in Bengal IMG_0062

While royalty elevated intoxication into an art form and a science, alcoholic brews were not the exclusive domain of palaces but were widely consumed by the proletariat. Across the adivasi heartland of tribal India, we’ve encountered local ladies selling handia in weekly haats (village markets) by the roadside.

Rice is fermented with bakhar, a yeast prepared with roots, bark and leaves of more than 20 plants to produce handia, which is named after the handi (earthen pots) in which it is stored and usually served in makeshift cups of sal leaf. We’ve glugged it from large brass vessels in a Santhal home near Shantiniketan during the Sohrai festival, accompanied by dancing and thrumming of the mandhar (drum).

Women in Chhattisgarh collecting mahua flowers IMG_6515

Across Central and Eastern India, flowers of the mahua tree are collected and fermented to make a desi liquor mahua, jokingly referred to as ABCD or Adi Basi Cold Drink. Similar to it is salfi or the chheen tree, whose sap is tapped to make a local brew, hailed as ‘Bastar Beer’. It is considered a sign of prosperity and can be found in almost every tribal household.

In Bihar and Jharkhand, taadi or sap from the taad (palm tree) is equally popular, known as neera in the south. We tried salfi at the village haats at Onkudeli and Chattikona with the Bonda tribesmen in southern Odisha, as they offered it to us straight from their unique ridge gourd cup with a spout to gulp it! Needless to say, it was a heady experience.

Salfi in Odisha IMG_6139

Alcoholic brews have always been closely related with festivals and merriment, as we found out. In the North East, during Etor or Chhota Sollung festival in Arunachal Pradesh, we danced with members of the Adi Padam tribe. Wherever we went, villagers handed us kala (black) apong in hollow bamboo stems and the songs and laughter echoed across the hills. The local brew is made of fermented millet and rice. At Abasa Homestay near Ziro, Kago Kampu and Kago Habung taught us how to make homemade apong.

Easily the most well known Indian distillate is Goan feni, made from cashew, a plant that was introduced to India by the Portuguese (we still call it by its Portuguese name ‘caju’). With the advent of summer, the hillsides come alive with the heady aroma of ripening cashew fruits. The fruits are plucked from the trees and the nuts are separated from the cashew apple and consumed after roasting.

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The cashew apple is squashed in a rock cut basin to extract niro, a non-fermented sweet juice best served chilled. All the collected niro is allowed to ferment and transferred into a big earthen pot where it is boiled for distillation. The first distillate is called urak, which is low in alcoholic content while subsequent distillates yield feni. Quite potent and smelly, feni is best enjoyed with lime and soda though many bars in Goa like Soro and Gunpowder stir up feni-based cocktails!

At The Grand Dragon Ladakh in Leh, huddled in a traditional sit down Ladakhi style restaurant in winter, our host Danish gave us a crash course in Ladakhi cuisine. If endless cups of salty gur gur cha with yak butter ain’t your cup of tea, try the local tipple chhang, made from fermented barley. The drink was poured into our kore (cups) with a snack of churpe (hard cheese) served in a pheypor or decorative lidded bowl, often used to store tsampa or barley.

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A thousand miles away, we had discovered chhang at Sonam di’s little shack at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar. It tasted like wine, had a high like beer and cost as much as water. After a round, you only had to add water to the fermented millet, leave it for 10 minutes and voila, your next serving was ready!

We used to pick up sacks of millet to drink it at leisure at home in Bangalore. Little wonder the local authorities banned it. The next time we went to Bylakuppe, there was no whiff of chhang anywhere!

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Perhaps the most easily accessible intoxicating brew across India is bhang lassi or thandai, sold at Govt. authorised bhang shops. We’ve tried it in Allahabad, Varanasi, Pushkar and Omkareshwar, though the craziest experience was at the famous bhang shop in Jaisalmer. Located at the base of the fort since the early 1970s, the tiny shop was immortalized by Anthony Bourdain. Chander Prakash Vyas or Babu, better known as Doctor Bhang, represents the tech-savvy third generation and has a YouTube video, an FB page and a killer spiel to hawk his potion to foreign tourists.

We laughed as he rattled off the variants, “We have a light Baby Lassi for Japani-Korean people because they have baby eyes, then Medium, Strong and Super Duper Sexy Strong – full power 24-hour, no toilet, no shower!” Besides bhang lassis in banana, chocolate and other flavours, they also had bhang chocolates and cookies. As we pored over the menu, Dr Bhang took a long look at us and said, “Better you take Super Duper Sexy Strong!”

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 17 December 2017 as the cover story in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Eat Street: India’s best street food

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Indian appetite for street food is insatiable and the variety on offer is mind-boggling. Join ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY on a food journey of the best street eats from around the country

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It is often said that in India, food and language change every few kilometers. In a vast country like ours, street food is as diverse and limitless, with each region having its own specialties. Many food connoisseurs consider India’s capital Delhi as the national street food capital. From Parathe wale gali in Chandni Chowk to late night anda parathas at Moolchand, thukpa in Tibetan Market to various state stalls in Dilli Haat, Delhi’s street food scene is exciting.

Bittoo, the male protagonist in the movie ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ would earnestly profess ‘Bread pakodey ki kasam.’ Delhiites are likely to swear by their favourite snack as easily as they swear at their best friend. While chhole bhature is typically Delhi, on the streets you are more likely to find pushcarts or bicycles with large brass containers selling chhola kulcha, a soft flatbread served with chhole that’s dry or curried. Hawkers trawl the streets and office complexes carrying baskets of ‘ram laddoo’ or deep fried moong dal pakodas, topped with grated radish and coriander chutney.

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In the evening, vendors clang their tavas to announce deep-fried aloo tikki or aloo chat. Roasted shakkarkandi (sweet potato chat), bread-omelette and boiled eggs topped with onion, green chilis, coriander leaves, salt and chaat masala rule in winter while summer spells lassi, shikanji, bel ka sharbat (wood apple squash), sattu, bhanta (goli soda) and chuski (ice gola) to quench people’s thirst.

Thanks to the significant population of immigrants from Darjeeling and the North East, momo stalls have sprouted all over Delhi like startups in Bangalore. Explore the bylanes of the old city with Delhi Food Walks.

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One place that rivals Delhi for the tag of food capital is Amritsar. The first eateries popped up around the ‘Lake of Nectar’ being excavated that gave the city its name. The common staple is kulcha, a thick aloo paratha cooked in a tandoor and served with bowls of chana, longi (a chutney made of potato, onion, tamarind and mint) and butter. ‘Suchha da Kulcha’ on Maqbool Road, ‘Ashok da Kulcha’ on Ranjit Avenue and ‘Darshan Kulcha wala’ near Jamadar ki Haveli are the top kulcha joints in town.

For Amritsari chhole, there’s ‘Kesar ka Dhaba’ at Chowk Pasiyan, ‘Bade Bhai ka Brothers Dhaba’ and ‘Bharawan da Dhaba’ at Town Hall. Try the tandoori chicken at Beera Chicken on Majitha Road and Amritsari machhi at Makhan Fishwala and Surjit Food Plaza in Nehru Complex. Wash it all down with lassi at Ahuja Milk Bhandar at Lohagadh Gate or Gyan di lassi.

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Mumbaikars are equally passionate about their city’s eats. From bhelpuri at Chowpatty, chaat at Elco Market, late night roomali rolls at Bade Miyan or fruit with ice cream at Bachelorr’s, Mumbai has its chosen haunts. Besides the ubiquitous vada paav, there’s paav in every form – misal paav, paav bhaji and keema paav. Sure, there’s ragda pattice (chana and aloo tikki chaat), but on the national food stage, Mumbai’s frugal eats fare the same as we would in an all-India exam, ‘satisfactory, but can do better’.

Mumbai’s eponymous quick fix the Bombay sandwich is made at roadside stalls with slices of potato, onion, cucumber, tomato and cheese between pressed toast. Competing with Mumbai’s dabbawalas are the unsung poha makers, a local household industry and the idli-vada vendors of Matunga, which harbours a significant Tamil population.

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Parsi-run Irani cafes dish out brun maska and tea all day long. During Ramzan, the mile-long stretch from Bohri Mohalla to Mohammed Ali Road teems with food stalls selling baida roti, rolls, kebabs, malpua and phirni. The same ambience can be found in Nagpur’s Mominpura.

In Ahmedabad, locals throng roadside stalls like Shri Ambika Dal Vada Centre selling hot lentil pakodas with onion and fried chili. After the jewellery shops in the gold district Manek Chowk down their shutters, the entire area transforms into one giant open-air food court. Local businessmen don’t mind; it’s free security till 2 am! Understandably, a lot of real estate is devoted to churans, digestives and mukhwas (mouth fresheners). However, not everything is vegetarian in Amdavad. Bhatiyar Galli is packed with Muslim non-veg fare like salli gosht, mutton samosas, kebabs and patties (puffs).

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Besides khandvi and khaman (dhokla), Gujarat’s most popular snack is Kutchi Dabeli, a desi burger invented in Mandvi, made with potato, masala, chutneys of tamarind, date, garlic, red chilies and garnished with pomegranate and roasted peanuts. Since the filling is ‘pressed’ together between two buns, the dish is called ‘dabeli’. On an average, 20 lakh dabelis are consumed across Kutch every day.

Surat is synonymous with undhiyu, a mixed vegetable dish, literally ‘upside down’ as the dish is traditionally cooked underground in upturned pots with fire from above. Another Surat special is Surti ‘12 handi’paaya (trotters) and assorted meat parts simmering in twelve different handis or pots.

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In neighbouring Rajasthan, cities are associated with their unique snacks. If Jaipur is known for its pyaaz kachori (best at Rawat Mishthan Bhandar and the iconic Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar or LMB) and Bikaner has its signature Bikaneri bhujiya, Jodhpur wins hands down with its mirchi bada and mawa kachori. Sign up for a Bazaar, Crafts & Cuisine walk with Virasat Experiences and eat your way through the streets of Jaipur, trying out ghevar, imarti and makhaniya lassi.

In Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior’s local snack is bedai, a poori stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s laddus aren’t to be missed, besides the mandatory pack of gajak (sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) from Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar.

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Indore, royal seat of the Holkars, bears a strong Maratha influence, evident in their love for poha, except that they couple it with jalebi! Sharing a border with Gujarat and Rajasthan, khaman and dal-bati are integral to the Malwa region. Indore’s street food scene is legendary with stalls at Sarafa dispensing garadu (deep fried sweet potato), dahi bada, bhutte ka kees (grated corn fried in ghee and spices), batla (green peas) kachori, sev and khopra patties – an aloo bonda with grated coconut inside! Chhappan Dukaan, a commercial precinct of ‘56 shops’, mostly food joints, is home to legends like Johnny Hot Dog and Madhuram’s shikanji, a sweet concoction of thickened milk and dry fruits.

Many cities have a khau galli or ‘Eat Street’ where locals congregate for their daily fix. In Lucknow, Hazratganj and Chowk, the old market stretching between Gol Darwaza and Akbari Darwaza, constitute ultimate foodie heaven. Melt-in-your-mouth kebabs like shami, kakori and galawati are sold at stalls like Tunday Kebab, alongside kulcha-nihari and Lucknowi biryani at Idris or Lalla. Awadhi cuisine, unhurried and delectable, is best savoured in various halwas and desserts like nimish or makkhan malai.

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The most popular ‘naashta’ or breakfast item across the Hindi heartland is poori-sabzi. In Allahabad and Varanasi, locals also love their kalakand and lal peda. Everywhere in India, bhutta (corn) and moongfali (peanuts), variously called jig nuts, kadlekayi, singh dana or ‘timepass’, are anytime eats, grabbed on the go at traffic lights or by the kerb. In the south, they like their groundnuts and corncobs steamed!

The ultimate street food of all time is golgappa, which is known by different names and comes in subtle variations. Pani puri, puchka, gupchup, pani patase, call it what you may, it evokes the same emotions. Holding a makeshift sal leaf cup, awaiting your turn, you open your mouth till the world sees your epiglottis as you relish the burst of flavours and tangy explosion of tamarind water as you gobble a golgappa whole. It’s an unwritten rule that every round of pani puri must be followed by papdi chat, the drier version, and a gratis sukha (dry one sans masala) in the end.

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In Kolkata, besides kaati rolls, biryani and Bengali sweets, the samosa’s smaller cousin, the singada and aloo chop rule the roost. Kolkata’s eastern nook of Tangra is legendary for its Chinese joints. No train journey in these parts is complete without jhaal muri or puffed rice, spiced with mustard oil, peanuts, Bengal gram mixture, onion, chili, coriander, potato cubes and pickle masala, rattled expertly in a dabba with a spoon and served in a thonga (paper packet) with a sliver of coconut.

Every evening in Bihar, locals snack on mudhi (puffed rice) with kachri (onion/potato fritters) or chura bhuja (roasted flat rice) with lal chana. Bihar’s most well known export is litti-chokha, roundels of dough stuffed with spiced sattu (roasted gram flour), which are doused in ghee and relished with potato mash and thin tomato chutney. Bhola Kewat is a litti legend in Ranchi. Another Jharkhand classic is dhuska, a thick fried poori made of powdered rice and chana dal.

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Nearby ‘Steel City’ Jamshedpur, with its multi-cultural, cosmopolitan air, has its superstars – “Tambi ka dosa, Fakira ka chanachur, Hari ka golgappa, Bauwwa ji ka chai, Kewat ka litti, Lakhi ka rolls, Bhatia ka milkshake…” Jampot folks go into raptures over the taste of nostalgia, reminiscing about their street food heroes like kids obsessing over WrestleMania cards.

Pahala, midway between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, is lined with shops displaying large cauldrons of rasgulla, supposedly invented in Odisha before local maharajas (cooks) popularized it in Kolkata after migrating to Bengal. Another Odiya heavyweight besides chhena poda and chhena gaja is Dhenkanal bada, a dal vada served with ghugni (yellow pea curry).

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Puffed rice or mudhi is consumed all over India, from Odisha, Bengal and Bihar to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where it is known as pori. Across North Karnataka, it’s called mandakki and stalls in Davanagere furiously stir it into spicy variants like khara mandakki, nargis or girmit. At dusk, little angadis (shops) dispense hot mensinkayi bajjis (chili pakoda) from Bijapur to Bangalore. Here, an evening snack is not just local tradition, but considered a sacred birthright. People love their bajjis (fritters) made of potato, onion, lentils or raw banana.

If Maddur is synonymous with Maddur vada and Davangere with its benne dosa made with dollops of white butter, Mangaluru boasts teatime snacks like goli bajji, Mangalore Buns, ambode, uppitu-shira and khara roti. In Hubli’s ‘khau galli’ Durgada Bail, stalls sell unique dishes like ‘tomato omelette.’ Cultural capital Mysore has the holy triumvirate of Mysore dosa, Mysore bonda and Mysore pak (a ghee drenched sweet).

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In Bangalore, major food haunts like VV Puram, Malleswaram, Shivaji Nagar and Mosque Road resound with the chomps of hungry masses. The quick and cheap rolls of Fanoos have sated appetites for years. Local outfits run food walks through the pettah (Old Bangalore), Frazer Town, Basavangudi, Russell Market and Military Hotels.

In Hyderabad, feasting continues in the city of Nizams with biryani, keema samosas, haleem and paaya. Tamil Nadu goes into raptures over their dosai and vadai as much as parottas, besides soondal, a salad of garbanzo beans or chickpeas tempered with onion, chilli, mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut. Every evening, Chennaiites head straight to the fish fry stalls on Elliott Beach to nibble on an assortment of local fish.

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Across Kerala, the morning starts with puttu-kadla, steamed cylindrical rice cakes with black chickpea curry. Chips made of banana, tapioca and jackfruit are fried in roadside stalls like Kumari Banana Chips in Kozhikode. But the northern tract of Malabar promises a world of lesser-known Moplah delicacies – assorted pathiris (rice pancakes stuffed with egg or meats), bonda, ari kaduka (rice stuffed in green mussels), spindle-shaped unnakaya (mashed banana stuffed with coconut, nuts and raisin) and pazham nerchadu (banana fritters).

Like Iyengar bakeries in Bangalore and other colonial haunts across India, Kerala too has its share of outlets dispensing baked goodies. From Mambally’s in Thalassery, Kerala’s first bakery that opened in 1883 to Delecta and Cochin Bakery in Kozhikode, the bakery culture is omnipresent in India right up to distant Srinagar.

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The famous Ahdoos and traditional Sofi-run bakeries churn out khara biscuit, sheermal (saffron flatbread), baqerkhani (puff pastry), lavas (unleavened bread) and kulchas (brittle bread) topped with sesame and poppy seeds, avidly consumed with kehwa (Kashmiri tea) and sheer or noon chai (salty tea).

In Himalayan regions like Ladakh, Sikkim and Darjeeling, locals pop churpi or yak cheese cubes like popcorn. It smells vile, tastes like cardboard and takes hours to melt in your mouth, but somehow they love it. No matter which street corner you hang around, there’s a food stall beckoning you with a local bite that begs to be tried…

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 October 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald.

Into the hearth of North Karnataka

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travelled 20,000km across Karnataka on a food research project for a restaurant, sampling and cooking local cuisine with two chefs and a video crew. This story covers their North Karnataka leg to jola (sorghum) country.

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Gangamma Kashiappa Benagi, an octogenarian vegetable vendor from Dharwad, had more creases on her face than the currency notes she handled everyday. She sat singing in her kitchen, involuntarily rotating her arm over an imaginary grindstone! We smiled. Embarrassed, she confided it was out of habit.

The tune, typically sung while grinding grain, recalls a rich oral tradition where everyday chores and harvesting were celebrated through song. Over the next few hours, Gangamma shared recipes and secrets she had learned from her mother Lingamma who started the vegetable shop in 1905.

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We were two writers accompanied by two chefs and a video crew driving through Karnataka, cooking and sampling local delicacies as part of a food research project for a restaurant. While we had stuffed our faces all day, Gangamma had vended vegetables, tilled her field, changed two buses to meet us and rustle up a great vegetarian spread. She even slapped out 18-inch jolada (jowar or sorghum) rotis by hand. This was Shravana masa cuisine, she explained, using native vegetables available in the monsoon.

On offer were jowari doddmensinkayi palya (stuffed country capsicum), so pungent, it had to be tempered down with curd, gulagayi yenagai (country cucumber fry), jowari mensinkayi (pan fried country chilli), majjige saaru (buttermilk curry) and karchikai palya (Momordica cymbalaria), a little pod that must be consumed right after harvest, before it bursts open. In the old days, the Benagi ladies gave vegetables to local hotels on credit and settled accounts only after the day’s cooking and feeding was done!

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This was North Karnataka, the famous jowar belt where sorghum/millet is used to make unleavened bread or jolada roti, served at Lingayat eateries like Basaveshwara Khanavali in Hubli (now Hubballi). In the 12th century, philosopher saint Basavanna started the Veerashaiva-Lingayat faith, marked by Shiva worship and vegetarianism. In Dharwad, every morning Hotel Nataraj displays the saint’s vachanas (sayings) on a board outside.

Lunchtime business is brisk at Basappa Khanavali, a legendary Lingayat eatery started by Basappa Malgond in 1930 with set meals of jolada roti with yenne badnekayi (brinjal curry), hesarukaal palya (green gram curry) and jhunka, steamed gram flour cubes dusted with sesame and coriander leaves. The region is known for its pudis (powders) that supplement the diet as sources of protein – agasi (flax seed), yellu (sesame), shenga (groundnut), puttani (chana dal) and gural or ucchelu (Niger seed), commonly sprinkled on salads and curries or stuffed into brinjal or okra.

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In the Amingad home, we discovered unusual delicacies like tingal avrekayi palya, a local bean available only for a ‘month’ (tingal in Kannada). Soute Bija Huggi or broken wheat kheer resembles tiny soute bija (cucumber seeds) and features in all Lingayat marriages and functions. The process of rolling out the little pellets of broken wheat dough was tedious. Ashok, who runs Amingad Cool Drink with his father, joked, “In North Karnataka, we also have traditional momos and pasta!”

The ladies rolled out kuchida kadabu (wheat dumpling), kudisida kadabu (stuffed dumpling) and uggi chapattis, steamed on green cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee! Little dough beads were pressed on a comb for stripes and shaped into miniature shells or ‘shankha’. “Bro, it’s like Orecchiette” (ear-shaped pasta), exclaimed Chef Manjit. Epiphanies lurked around every corner.

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At L.E.A. (Lingayat Educational Association) Canteen, we tried thuppa avalakki (beaten rice with ghee) and their signature Masala Toast with chatnipudi, benne (white butter) and sauce. Slathered together, it was as good as a desi peanut butter sandwich! ‘Hotte’ (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa was literally a heavyweight in the local food scene.

This sweet stall owner with a heart of gold distributed free treats to children and the poor, before selling mandakki (puffed rice) and sweets to customers. Meghdarshini offered an outsized poori, unlimited sabzi and chutney for those with smaller pockets! Philanthropy ran deep in culture-rich Dharwad.

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The Dharwad peda story began 175 years ago, when Ram Ratan Singh Thakur migrated from Unnao due to the plague and started making pedas for a living. His grandson Babu Singh Thakur popularized it and people formed such long queues at the shop that the area was named ‘Line’ Bazaar.

In 1933, a penniless Avadh Bihari Mishra settled in Line Bazaar and got into the same business. Today, Mishra peda, with its industrial production and multiple outlets across cities, has made Dharwad peda a household name!

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Dharwad’s twin-town Hubli is dotted with Lingayat khanavalis like Basaveshwara and Savaji eateries like Nakoda and Devika standing cheek-by-jowl with brass bands and ammunition shops. Durgada Bail, the city’s legendary Khau Galli (Eat Street) fires up the evening with snack stalls serving masala dosa and ‘tomato’ omelette!

But it’s not all vegetarian up north. The bold flavour of Sauji or Savaji cuisine is like a beacon for lovers of meat and spice. Savajis or SSKs are Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriyas who claim descent from the mythic thousand-armed warrior Kartiveerya Arjun. They migrated to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra’s borders from Central India.

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As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine. During Dussehra, they offer edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings), arithi (wheat flour diyas) and lalpani (liquor) to Goddess Bhavani. We cooked classics like keema ball and khara boti at Hotel Milan Savaji with the Kabadis and traditional delicacies with Vidya and Vishwanath Kathare – rakti (blood curry), tale mamsa (brain curry) and karadu (spicy) mutton. If Savaji cuisine uses blood, its spiciness extracts an equal measure of sweat and tears!

Northwest Karnataka shares a border with Maharashtra and the Maratha love for spice is evident in Belgaum (or Belagavi). Be it rassa (fiery curries) or sukka (spicy dry fry), red chili is essential! Manjula’s chicken sukka and mutton rassa at Pai Resorts left us teary-eyed in more ways than one. An erstwhile British cantonment, Belgaum is famous for its kunda, a milk and khova sweet, best at Camp Purohit. Anyone naïve enough to advertise his travel plans to these parts is saddled with requests for boxes of sweets!

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Overshadowed by Belgaum kunda, is the city’s other sweet, mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khova, it is whirled like a roomali, baked on an upturned tava and folded like a rectangular dosa. At Krishnamurthi Saralaya’s Mandige on Konwal Gali, Vijaykumar shared a fascinating legend.

A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled some dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his tapas (penance). Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! A must in Brahmin weddings, it’s often displayed unfolded in large baskets. Many a marriage has been called off because no mandige was served!

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North Karnataka loves its sweets as much as spice. Kardant was invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together, creating the karadi-antu (fried gum).

Like a nutty granola gym snack, it became extremely popular among those frequenting garadimanes (wrestling akhadas). Gulbarga is famous for its paan mithai and malpuri, created by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan, while Ballari is known for its ‘Cycle’ khova sold on bicycles!

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From sheep farms in Haveri, Karnataka’s ‘Chili town’ Byadgi to the erstwhile Muslim principality of Savanur known for Shivalal’s legendary ‘khara’ (mixture) since 1931, we went into virtually unchartered terrain on our food trail. Just past Almatty Dam, Korti-Kolhaar on the Hubli-Bijapur (Vijayapura) highway attracts travelers with fresh fish from the Krishna river. The matka curd, served with puttani-avalakki (beaten rice) for Rs.25, lasts for days without souring.

Menthya (fenugreek) is another staple and sprigs of the smaller-leaved country variety are served at every meal, made into a pachadi (salad) or steamed into kadabu (dumpling). With our Bijapur ‘oota’ (meal), we got crunchy country cucumbers as well. Here, people love their jolada rotis kadak (crisp) and their mensinkayi bajjis fiery. “But why such spicy food in a hot climate?” we cried. Thippanna looked at us incredulously. “It’s a hot arid region; people eat spicier food so it makes them sweat and keeps the body cool.” Baffling, yet believable!

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At Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi), the Maratha-run Chaddi Hotel got its name from the owner who wore shorts. Gajanan of Chetak Sauji Hotel recounted how on a busy night, he ran out of food and had to cook a fresh batch in a pressure cooker, which patrons tagged ‘seeti rice’ after the whistle! The small-grained rice goes perfectly with kavala (tender) mutton, mutton keema balls and anda curry.

The Hyderabad-Karnataka region, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has culinary influences like gongura (Sorrel leaves), made into chutney or cooked with lentils or mutton. Hyderabadi dishes like biryani, dalcha (meat with lentils) and bread ka meetha are popular in these parts, explained Lalitha Jawali.

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In 1512, Guru Nanak came to the Deccan during his second udasi (spiritual journey). When people lamented about the brackish water in Bidar, he tapped a stone with his foot to create a fresh water spring (jhira) that flows to this day. The langar (free kitchen) at Gurudwara Nanak Jhira feeds thousands of visitors daily while Rohit Restaurant nearby serves excellent Punjabi food.

We stopped for Iduga cuisine at Dandina Hirehalu, the historic camping ground for soldiers marching from Bellary Fort to Chitradurga Fort. The Idugas migrated from Andhra to Karnataka centuries ago and are known for meaty cuisine and fondness for chilli. At HRG Farmhouse, Mahadevi explained, “Mutton kebab is best marinated with papaya flowers. Every part of the goat is utilized – trotters for kaal (leg) soup, blood added to boti (intestines) becomes nalla vanta and spleen and liver mixed with hand-pounded chilli makes batti chutney.” The round appetizers tasted like paté!

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Beyond Hamp’s Hebrew signboards advertising shakshuka, babaganoush and Israeli fare, there’s local food aplenty. At Uramma Heritage Home in Anegundi, we cooked with Sharda and Hemlatha of Bhuvneshwari self-help group, who specialize in traditional cuisine.

They whipped up unusual bhendekayi (okra) chutney, alasande gugri palya of cowpeas or lobia, country brinjals roasted on open fire and mashed into badnekayi chutney and hesaru bele (green gram) payasa (kheer) and kosambri (salad).

Holige making with Bhuvneshwari Self-help group Anegundi IMG_3695_Anurag Mallick

Davangere is synonymous with the benne dosa, made with generous dollops of white butter and served with alu palya (potato mash) and coconut chutney, best savoured hot at Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel. Professor Ganesh took us on a street food tour with a cooking session at Vinutha Ravi’s home.

Davangere has hundreds of bhattis (mills) that produce mandakki (puffed rice), served with mensinkayi bajji (chilli fritters) at street stalls. At TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi, puffed rice was furiously stirred into masala, khara or nargis mandakki. An entire street was dedicated to shavige (vermicelli), dried like screens of silken yarn on terraces. The tantalizing aroma of oggarne (seasoning) hung in the air as someone busily tapped a ladle against a vessel.

Shavige Davangere IMG_2274_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
There’s a daily flight from Bangalore to Hubli, from where Belgaum is 101km, Davangere 151km, Hampi 164km, Ballari 214km and Bijapur 193km. From Bijapur, Gulbarga is 151km and Bidar 112km further northeast.

Where to Stay
Places like Davangere, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Bidar have regular city hotels. At Bellary, try Hotel Royal Fort, Pai Resorts opposite Killa Lake in Belgaum, Uramma Heritage Home at Anegundi and Orange County’s Evolve Back at Kamalapura near Hampi.

Where to Eat

DAVANGERE

Sri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel
Medical College Road, Kuvempu Nagar
Ph 9449135100

TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi
Lawyer Road, Jaydev Circle
Ph 9902200924

Hamsini Hotel
Shamanur Road
Ph 9886792331

HUBLI/HUBBALLI

Basaveshwar Khanavali
Opp Old Bus Stand, Kamaripeth
Ph 0836-2357745

Basappa Khanavali Dharwad-local favourite DSC02879_Anurag Mallick

DHARWAD

Basappa Khanavali
Opp Civil Court, PB Road
Ph 9902729973

Hotel Milan Savaji
Jubilee Circle, PB Road
Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875

Kathare’s Savaji Hotel
Line Bazaar, Opp Sangam Theatre
Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450

Hotel Nataraj
Sangam Circle
Ph 0836-2442855, 9964607800

L.E.A. Canteen
Belgaum Road
Ph 9448147157

Megh Darshini Restaurant
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2435147

Amingad Cold Drink House
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2442437, 9740013177

Babusingh’s Thakur Pedha
Near Sri Ram Temple, Line Bazaar
www.thakurpedha.com

Mishra Peda
Court Circle, SH-1
Ph 0836-2213217
www.mishrapedha.com

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5845_Anurag Mallick

BELGAUM/BELAGAVI

Krishnamurti Saralaya’s Mandige
Konwal Gali

Camp Purohit
Opp Shringar Cinema, High Street, Camp
Ph 0831-2422715

Hotel Niyaaz
PB Road, Opp Market Police Station
Ph 0831-2400133

AMINGAD

Vijaya Kardant
SH-20, Raichur Highway
Ph 8123115005

HAMPI

Uramma Heritage Homes
Anegundi
Ph 9448284658
www.urammaheritagehomes.com

Hampi fields IMG_4032_Anurag Mallick

BIJAPUR/VIJAYAPURA

Shri Sai Prasad Khanawali
Sainik School Road, Opp KSRTC Workshop
Ph 9902153239

GULBARGA/KALABURAGI

Hotel Chetak
Humnabad Base
Ph 9901003399

Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri
Chappal Bazaar

BIDAR

Rohit Restaurant
Inside Kamaan, Guru Nanak Colony
Ph 9241374425

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

Under the Goan sun

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Fun, food and festive fervour, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find new reasons to come back to Goa

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The Goan sun may have lost its burn after heavyweight music festivals like Sunburn and Supersonic shifted to Pune last year end, but that can only mean good news to Goa lovers. There’s plenty of elbow room to party for Christmas and New Year! Crank up the volume with the Krank Goa Boutique Party Experience (27-30 Dec) at Chronicle, have the ‘Craziest New Year’s Eve party’ at Banyan Tree with legendary techno artist Goa Gil or try the Yoga Retreat Fest at Mandrem (28 Nov-3 Dec).

However, there’s more to cheer about this season. Starwood’s swanky W Hotels opens in Vagator this December. An old soda factory at Baddem has been reinvented into Soro, a rustic New York-style pub with colourful tiles and retro posters. After wowing Hauz Khas hipsters in Delhi, Gunpowder is scorching Goan taste-buds with its eclectic Peninsular cuisine. Sharing space with PeopleTree design studio in Assagao near the new Fabindia outlet, Gunpowder has a new trendy bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik.

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Not enough? There’s hot air ballooning (Rs.9900/person) at Assolda in South Goa and Duck Boat Safaris in Panjim, making Goa the first state in India to introduce it. Like Dublin or Dubai, you can take a terrestrial-aquatic tour of the architectural precinct of Old Goa followed by a boat ride on the Mandovi. Surely an upgrade from those sunset cruises with ‘live Goan music and dance’!

GTDC Managing Director Nikhil Desai is upbeat about new tourism initiatives. “We have launched cycling tours and birding trails. You can hire a yacht or go on boat tours to Chorao and Divar islands. Plans are afoot to convert Mayem Lake into a recreational spot. Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours like Singapore and London are in the pipeline. Apart from beach tourism, the focus is on the rich hinterland, unique festivals and Goa as a gourmet destination.”

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Gourmet Goa

Having savoured Goa’s diverse repertoire, we had to agree. Be it Bomras’ Burmese cuisine like lah pet toke (pickled tea leaf salad) in Candolim, souvlakis, tzatziki and Greek fare at Thalassa in Anjuna or Indo-French fine dining at Gregory Bazire’s Le Poisson Rouge at Baga, Goa is for gourmands. Dig into river crab and fresh turmeric tortellini with a curry leaf emulsion at Le Poisson Rouge or hop across to Matsya Freestyle Kitchen at Samata Retreat Centre in Arambol to try out Israeli chef Gome Galily’s excellent tuna tataki and red snapper ceviche.

Chef Chris Saleem, the man behind Sublime in Morjim is now manning Elevar, a seaside restaurant in Ashvem. A large deck with casual seating overlooks the surf as well-plated dishes like Seabass Carpaccio and Tandoori prawns over saffron and fenugreek risotto are served. We took a ferry across to Fort Tiracol to dine at Tavern restaurant where Chris’s signature menu blends Portuguese, Goan and Indian flavours into petiscos (tapas). Overlooking Keri Beach from the fort ramparts, we tucked into spaghetti with Tiracol clams, Vitello Tonnato (stewed beef filets) and Peixe caldeirada (Portuguese fisherman stew) with a view as terrific as the food.

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Forget Italian and Asian, there’s even Bengali cuisine in Goa! Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a sea green and white Portuguese villa in Sangolda had enough room for a restaurant. Her friends Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh found inspiration in the Franco-Bengali love for mustard and roped in food historian Pritha Sen to meld subtle flavours of East Bengal with French cuisine. Over Cucumber Latte and tamarind-based Tentul Joler Sherbet, Pritha deconstructed Eastern Indian cuisine.

“When the British built the railways to expand the trade in tea and Burma teak, steamers ferried goods, passengers, forest rangers, British officials and zamindars from the railhead. Mogs, a Burmese hill tribe from Arakan, were ace cooks who picked up European flavours aboard Portuguese pirate ships. Unlike Hindu or Muslim cooks, Mogs were Buddhist and had no qualms preparing pork or beef, so the British employed them on these steamers. Over time, this ‘steamer cuisine’ crept into the Raj clubs of Calcutta.” Pritha tracked down the last living mog in Kolkata and coaxing recipes and techniques from his assistant, introduced a limited menu here. The highlight is smoked fish, made the traditional way by charring puffed rice, jaggery and husk.

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Museum of Goa

MoG was the flavour of the season! The smoky taste still on our lips, we breezed past the blue roadside mermaids scattered between Porvorim and Candolim to MoG or Museum of Goa in Pernem Industrial Estate. Mog is Konkani for ‘heart’ so when the museum opened last November, locals wondered what scandalous affair would unfold at the lonely hilltop. But the museum of contemporary art wows every visitor.

Spread across four floors amid landscaped sculpture gardens, MoG is the largest private art space in India. Set up by local ‘sea artist’ Subodh Kerkar (his muse is the sea), it chronicles Goa’s various cultural histories by local artists. Spanning a time frame from Parashurama to the Portuguese and 450 years of colonial rule, the museum is a tribute to Goa. Ceramic and pottery workshops by local artist Mayank Jain, art classes, book launches, lectures, film screenings, concerts; MoG is a hub where many art forms collide. The lores behind the themes were as interesting as the exhibits.

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The artists creatively interpreted Portuguese imports to India – from pepper and chili to gulmohar (brought from Madagascar and locally called kombyache zhad or ‘tree of the rooster’ owing to its crest-like flower). Subodh created installations using green mussels, sawn boats, porcelain plates submerged in the sea for months, even a fish vendor’s chopping block!

A large wooden horseshoe titled ‘Al Khamsar’ retraced Goa’s trading history as the centre of horse trade during medieval times. Nearly half of Goa’s revenue came from the sale of Arabian horses, in high demand by Indian royalty. The Vijayanagar kings were the biggest buyers with exclusive rights to all horses brought by the Portuguese. They also paid for horses that perished on the sea voyage, provided they could furnish the tail!

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Exploring Panjim

The gallery’s in-house Om Made Café served organic fare, but we were so famished, we could’ve eaten a horse! At Ritz Classic on 18th June Road in Panjim, patrons stalk diners for a free table, so we checked out their spacious new outlet in Patto. After a plate of chonak (Giant Sea Perch) fry, we concurred the taste was as spot on as the grilled pearlspot.

Panjim’s alleys are dotted with great eateries – Viva Panjim, Casa Bhosle (amazing tisrya sukkem or clams) and Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro that offers a daily rotating menu. Chicken cafreal on Monday, beef stew on Tuesday, feijoado (beef-pork-bean stew) on Wednesday, xacuti on Thursday and any dish on Friday. Bhatti Village in Nerul goes one better – an unfixed menu based on Patrick’s wife’s whims!

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Besides gastronomy, it was heartening to see Goa finally do justice to Mario Miranda’s legacy. The Reis Magos fort, named after the Biblical three wise men, was renovated by architect Gerard da Cunha, INTACH and the UK-based Helen Hamlyn Trust. The Craft Centre outlines the restoration process while two halls showcase Mario’s work, though one has been recently converted into a freedom fighters’ gallery!

Most visitors miss the first-of-its-kind Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum opposite Panaji jetty. Located in the 416-year-old Captain of Ports Building, it was renamed the Blue Building after a repaint in 2001 as tribute to the indigo trade. A chapel near the entrance is dedicated to St Anthony, patron saint of the lost-and-found. Among the highlights are dioramas of old trading settlements, Goan ports, a rare manuscript of Ain-i-Akbari, a Narcotics Gallery and a Battle of Wits Gallery where smuggled goods were seized in hollow shoe soles, cane sticks, commodes and car engines!

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In Panjim, take a guided walk through the old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas. Walking past lovely vivendas (homes) and pousadas (guest houses) with oyster shells windowpanes, we reached the fonte (spring) after which the settlement was named. Artist Subodh Kerkar too leads heritage walks and we joined him on an early morning jaunt to ‘any place within a short drive.’

At a time when we normally return from a rave, we set out to explore the heritage village of Moira. Beyond architect Charles Correa’s ancestral house, we strolled to the Moira riverfront guarded by the pre-Aryan folk deity Rastoli Brahman Prasann. At the sluice gates, fish was left to dry and fresh hatchlings in perforated plastic jars hung half submerged in the waters. ‘It’s to keep the bait fresh! On each walk I learn something new,” said Subodh.

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Having done enough rounds of Anjuna’s flea market, we browsed Mapusa’s Friday Market for local produce, clothes, furniture, terracotta artefacts and round Salcette sausages we had tried at the Pattoleochem Fest in Socorro village. They looked more like rudraksha beads (rosaries). “Child, they’re so tasty, you’ll come back for more”, one lady said. Indeed, we will! You can never have your fill of Goa…

FACT FILE

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Dabolim airport in Goa.

When to go
Besides IFFI in November and Christmas/New Year in December, look out for local fests every month – Grape Escapade in Jan, Carnival in Feb around Lent, Shigmo (Holi) in March, Mango festival in May, Sao Joao (well jumping) and Ponsachem (Jackfruit) Fest in June, Touxeachem (Cucumber) Fest in July at Talaulim and Pattoleochem Fest in Aug at Socorro.

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Where to Stay

Birdsong, Moira
Ph 9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222
www.birdsonggoa.com

Coco Shambhala, Nerul
Ph 9372267182
www.cocoshambhala.com

Ahilya by the Sea, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575
www.ahilyabythesea.com

Aashyana Lakhanpal, Candolim
Ph 0832-2489276, 2489225, 9822488672
www.aashyanalakhanpal.com

Panjim Inn, Panjim
Ph 0832-2226523, 2228136
www.panjiminn.com

W Hotels, Vagator
Ph 0832-6718888
www.starwoodhotels.com

Turiya Spa, Canacona
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyavilla.com

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Where to Eat & Drink

Casa Bhonsle
Cunha Rivara Road, Near National Theater, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2222260

Ritz Classic
‪Patto Plaza, Gera Imperium II, Near Kadamba Bus Stand, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2970298

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Seaside Cottages, Ashvem
Ph: 9130352188

Soro The Village Pub
Baddem Junction, Siolim-Assagao Road
Ph: 9881934440, 9881904449

Gunpowder
People Tree, Assagao
Ph: 0832-2268228

Mustard Restaurant
Freedom Tree, Sangolda
Ph: 98234 36120 

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What to See/Do 

Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum, Panaji
Ph: 0832-2420620 Email goamuseum2009@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am-5pm (Tues-Sun)
Entry: Rs.50 Audio Guided tour tablet

Museum of Goa, Pilerne
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324 www.museumofgoa.com
Timings: 10am to 6pm
Entry fee: Rs.100 Indians; Rs.300 foreign nationals, Rs.50 students and children.

Reis Magos Fort, Verem
Ph: 0832-2904649 Email reismagosfort@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am to sunset (Tues-Sun)

Houses of Goa Museum, Torda, Porvorim
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

For local tours, contact GTDC
Ph: 0832-2437132, 2437728, 8805727230
www.goa-tourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

The Journey of Biryani

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on the biryani trail across India chronicling the history of this iconic dish and its regional variants 

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In a dark sooty kitchen in Mysuru’s Lashkar Mohalla with only a shaft of light slanting through a glass tile, Sadiq bhai stood stirring a huge cauldron of boiling oil sizzling with onions. Two wide steel vessels had the choicest cuts of fresh pink meat. In another vessel, water was already on the boil and a woven basket on the floor held a heap of washed rice waiting to be transformed into Nasheman’s signature mutton biryani. Sadiq bhai was one of the countless practitioners of a well-guarded craft using secrets handed down by elders.

There is something remarkable in the manner in which humble rice is elevated to a heavenly dish fit for kings and commoners alike, with just a play of ingredients, flavours and techniques. In Tamil Nadu, there is a reference to “oon soru” in Tamil literature dating to 2 AD, a delicious combination of rice, clarified butter, bay leaf, turmeric, coriander, pepper and meat that was served to warriors.

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Though synonymous with Indian cuisine and a part of speciality and mainstream menus of every chef worth his salt, the biryani is regarded as an import from West Asia, more specifically, Persia. The word biryani is thought to originate from the Persian word “birian” which means ‘fried before cooking’ or “birinj” meaning ‘rice’. The washed rice is fried in butter or ghee before being cooked in boiling water – this not only imparted a mild nutty flavour to the rice but also ensured that the grains retained their shape after cooking.

Since medieval times, the recipe of a good biryani has been simple – rice and meat set in layers with the number of spices varying from few to fifteen. Traditionally, long grain brown rice was the preferred option, but now the scented basmati rice has become synonymous with biryani. In south India, local varieties like kaima or jeeraka shala (jeerige sanna in Coorg and seeraga samba in Tamil Nadu), provide their own distinct flavour and texture to the dish. The meats vary from goat, sheep, poultry, beef, eggs to seafood like fish, prawns and crab. Fragrance heightens its appeal and it’s not uncommon to find biryanis scented with rosewater, edible ittar or kewra water and saffron. The cooking technique can be kachchi (raw) where the meat is layered with raw rice in a handi or pot, or pakki (cooked) where cooked rice and meat are layered together.

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Legend has it that Timur the Lame, the Turkic conqueror and founder of the Timurid Empire, was responsible for the entry of biryani to India. Apparently, when he landed at our frontiers in 1398 he served a rudimentary form of ‘biryani’ to his soldiers. His armies would consume a hearty diet of pots of rice, spices and meats that were slow cooked in hot buried pits which were dug out at meal time. While biryani may very well have been part of a war diet, there was always a certain romance associated with it.

Perhaps, the fact that Mumtaz, the inspiration behind India’s most celebrated monument and symbol of love, the Taj Mahal, had something to do with it! It is believed that Mumtaz once visited the Mughal army’s barracks and was dismayed by the dire conditions and poor nutrition endured by the soldiers. She ordered the cook to prepare a wholesome meal that blended meat and rice. And thus, they say, the biryani was born…

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The stories may be apocryphal but there’s no doubt that the Mughals played their part in the popularity and dispersal of the biryani across their vast dominion. Whether it was the Nawabs of Oudh (Awadh) in Lucknow or the Nizams of Hyderabad, the biryani blossomed into regional variations wherever it went. Take Moradabad, founded in 1625 and named after Murad Buksh, son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.

When Mohammed Yar Khan, hailed as the founder of the Indian brassware industry, migrated from Afghanistan to India in the 1860s, locals not only picked up techniques of brass making but also the nuances of biryani. The Moradabadi Biryani is typically low on spices and high on flavor and there’s no better place to taste it than Alam biriyaniwala on Galshaheed Road.

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While the journey of the biryani from Persia to India via the Mughals is an incredible one, the way it was Indianized into different variants across the subcontinent is equally amazing. Patronized by royalty, every region, community or socio-geographic condition led to minor modifications and refinements. The Hyderabadi dum biryani developed under Asaf Jah I of Hyderabad. Arab nobleman Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi, appointed by Aurangzeb as viceroy of the Deccan between 1713 to 1721 laid the foundation of the Asaf Jahi dynasty after the death of the Mughal emperor.

As per legend, while on a hunting trip, the first Nizam was offered some kulcha (oval Indian bread) by a holy man. Asked to eat as many as he could, the Nizam ate seven kulchas and the seer prophesied that seven generations of his family would rule the state. The prophesy came true as seven Nizams ruled Hyderabad for two centuries from 1724 to 1947.

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Inspired by Persian society and their Turko-Mongol Mughal overlords, the Nizams patronized art, literature, culture and cuisine. It is said that the khansamas (royal chefs) of the court could prepare over 50 types of biryani using shrimp, quail, fish, deer, hare and their signature saffron infused rice. Another speciality was the delicately flavoured Doodh ki Biryani cooked with creamy milk, roasted nuts and aromatic spices.

However, the quintessential Hyderabadi dum biryani is made with basmati rice, spices and goat meat in a style known as kachchi yakhni or kachche gosht ki biryani. The marinated meat is cooked along with rice layered with fried onions, chilies, mint leaves and sprinkled with kewda, rose water and saffron. The dish is left on slow fire or dum (steam) and sealed with dough for a fragrant and aromatic flavor.

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It is often accompanied by a boiled egg and raita or mixed salad. While Paradise may have opened branches in other cities, locals swear by smaller establishments for the real taste of paradise – Hotel Shadaab near Charminar, Parvez Hotel at Nampally, Hotel Sohail in Malakpet and Cafe Bahar in Basheer Bagh.

One variant called the Kalyani biryani, often dubbed the ‘Poor man’s Hyderabadi biryani’, originated in Bidar in North Karnataka during the reign of the Kalyani Nawabs, who migrated to Hyderabad after Nawab Ghazanfur Jang married into the Asaf Jahi family. The Kalyani biryani was served by the Kalyani nawabs to guests who came from Bidar and visited their devdi (mansion) in Hyderabad.

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After the privy purse was abolished and the nawabs went into decline, some of their illustrious cooks set up their own stalls and introduced the Kalyani biryani to the local populace. The Kalyani biryani is characterized by small cubes of buffalo meat flavoured with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili, cumin, coriander powder, lots of onion and tomato, made into a thick curry and then cooked in dum style along with rice.

While the Hyderabadi biryani uses ground masalas, the Awadhi or Lucknow biryani is characterized by whole spices and yellow chili powder for a mild, flavourful dish. The rice is cooked separately in spices and marinated chicken is added later. The ambience may not win any Michelin stars, but locals queue up at Lucknow’s legendary hole-in-the-wall eateries like Lalla biryani at Chaupatiya Chowk, Wahid biryani in Aminabad and Idris ki Biryani at Patanala near Kotwali Chowk Bazaar.

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The Calcutta biryani, a Lucknowi variant, evolved when Awadh’s last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was exiled in 1856 to Kolkata. Settled in the suburb of Metiabruz, the nawab brought his personal chef with him. It is said the poorer households of Kolkata that could not afford meat, supplemented it with potatoes, which became a local specialty. The subtle biryani uses nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, cloves and cardamom in the yoghurt based marinade for the meat which is cooked separately from the rice.

This combination of spices gives it a distinct flavour as compared to other styles. The rice is flavoured with ketaki water or rose water along with saffron to give it flavour and a light yellowish colour. The usual accompaniment is raita and kosha mangsho (thick mutton curry), best ordered from biryani bastions like Arsalan and Nizam’s. In nearby Barrackpore, at Dada-Boudi Biryani locals buzz around like bees to take away biryani by the boxfuls as large vessels simmer in the back alley.

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As far as the original Mughlai biryani goes, one can still find the authentic taste in the crammed alleys and bylanes of Delhi. Tempered with saffron and enriched with nuts, the mild flavourful mughlai version has many takers, whether it is Al Jawahar near Jama Masjid or Nasir Iqbal in Nizamuddin. The legendary Karim’s, started in 1913 by Haji Karimuddin and ranked by Time Magazine as one of the best non vegetarian restaurants in Asia, trace their origins to the Mughal court.

After the last Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar was deposed and the British crushed the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, many royal cooks fled from Lal Qila and sought shelter in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. In 1911, when the Delhi Durbar was held for the coronation of King George V, several moved back to Delhi to cater to the crowds flocking for the coronation. Starting with a small dhaba serving rumali rotis with alu gosht and daal, Haji Karimuddin established the Karim Hotel in Jama Masjid’s Gali Kababian in 1913 with the lofty aim to serve royal food to the common man.

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Over time, the biryani has criss-crossed the cardinal directions of the country and imbibed spices and flavours from each region, to create extraordinary versions, iconic to places or communities. Of the dozen odd styles found in India, surprisingly most variations can be found in the south!

While the spicy Andhra Biryani is popular across South India be it RRR Mess in Mysuru or Nagarjuna in Bengaluru, the local Donne Biryani is quite the rage, served piping hot in a donne (arecanut palm leaf cups). Share elbow space with die hard patrons at the Gundappa Shivaji military hotel in Bengaluru or Hanumanthu’s in Mysuru. Biryani purists may scoff that these are technically pulaos and unless it’s layered it ain’t biryani, but the proof of the pudding lies in eating it!

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Mysuru is also known for its Tahari Biryani, perhaps a corruption of tarkari or vegetables. Beans, carrots and potatoes are cooked along with rice to create a tasty vegetarian dish that was popularised during the reign of Tipu Sultan and attributed to the austere vegetarian book-keepers in Tipu’s administration. Wherever there was a high Muslim population, the biryani gained tremendous popularity.

A popular variant in recent times is the Ambur biryani, first introduced by the Nawabs of Arcot and spread by their royal cooks in Ambur and Vaniyambadi villages of Vellore district in north-eastern Tamil Nadu. The most famous among them was Hasin Baig, who opened a small eatery on NH4 (Bengaluru- Chennai highway) that has grown into a powerful brand a century later. Ambur’s legendary Star Biryani now has branches in Chennai and Bengaluru and serves 7 types of biryani including a Chicken 65 Biryani!

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Ambur regulars however swear by Hotel Rahmaniya. Authentic Ambur biryani does not use any garam masala powder or coriander powder with the spice and the taste coming from the red chili paste. It has a distinct aroma and the moderate use of spice and curd as a gravy base make it easy to digest. It also has a higher ratio of meat to rice and is typically served with dalcha, a sour brinjal curry or Kathirikai Pachadi (Khatte Baingan).

Another legend in the galaxy of stellar biryani makers is Dindigul’s Thalpakatti biryani. What started off in 1957 as a humble betelnut shop and a 4-seater Anandha Vilas Biriyani Hotel, is today the first non-veg South Indian restaurant to open in Paris! Its founder Nagasamy Naidu sported a thalapa (traditional turban) and hence the hotel’s popular name Thalappakatti.

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Such was its taste that Tamil star Sivaji Ganesan often made a ritual stop at Dindigul for the Thalappakatti Biriyani while visiting his farmhouse at Soorakottai nearby. The Dindigul Biryani uses flavourful Parakkum sittu or Seeragasamba rice, top quality meat sourced from the cattle markets of Kannivadi and Paramathi, besides curd and lemon juice for the signature tang. Mutton bones are boiled and brinjal, potato and pulses are added to create an accompaniment called dalcha.

Many of the biryani varieties found on India’s eastern coast can be traced to Arab traders who sailed to port cities in the Konkan, Karavali and beyond. Malabar, Kerala’s northern region stretching from Kasaragod to Kozhikode, has long attracted Arabian sailors who came to India’s Spice Coast for trade. Over time, they married local women and a new Muslim community called the Mappilas (anglicized to Moplah) was formed.

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Thalassery, Malabar’s culinary capital, is known for its delectable biryani made with local spices, ghee and the small-grained fragrant kaima or jeerakasala rice. The meat and rice are prepared separately and layered together for a final dum, sealing the lid with maida or dough and placing red hot charcoal or flaming coconut shells above the lid.

Very little chili or chili powder is used, leading to a subtle dish served with raita, mango or date pickle and coconut-coriander chutneyAnd it’s no secret, you get the best Thalassery biryani in Paris. No, not the Eiffel Tower, Louvre or Arc de Triomphe Paris, but a tiny shack on Thalassery’s Logan Road called Paris.

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When cooks from Thalassery moved to Calicut, it led to a new coinage – Kozhikode or Malabar Biryani! We went backroom into the kitchen of Paragon restaurant to see a large vessel of chicken being stirred continuously into a thick gravy. Another man was cooking rice in cauldrons. A third deftly heaped steaming small-grained rice over a generous piece of chicken, as platefuls of Paragon’s famous biryani rolled out of the assembly line.

Besides meat, local cooks also turned to the bountiful sea to make fish or prawn biryani, sometimes made with a variation of vermicelli, instead of rice. Ayisha Manzil, a heritage homestay at Thalassery teaches the nuances of Moplah cuisine in gourmet cooking holidays.

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In Mangaluru, the South Canara trading community of Bearys (derived from the Tulu word ‘byara’, meaning trade or business) have their own distinct cuisine. Just like Mangalorean food, they use coconut, curry leaves, ginger, chilli and spices like pepper and cardamom. The dum style Beary biryani is subtle and delectable. Further up the Karavali coast, the Navayaths of Bhatkal have a Bhatkali or Navayathi biryani.

Navayaths are migrants predominantly from Arabia and Persia, who married into local Jain trading families to form a new community called Navayaths or the ‘newly arrived’. Like their language Navayathi, their cuisine too is an amalgam of Persian, Arabic, Marathi and Urdu with Konkani as its base. The biryani often has a vermicelli version instead of rice and is served with accompaniments like baingan ka khatta (tangy brinjal curry) and sirke ka pyaz (onions in vinegar).

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The biryani alters in taste and appearance as one travels up the coast. But have you ever heard of a biryani without rice? The Dawoodi Bohras are a sect of the Ismaili branch of Shias residing mainly in Mumbai, Gujarat and western India. Like their language – a dialect of Gujarati mixed with Arabic and Urdu – their biryani is also unique, made from colocasia leaves normally used for patrode. The Bohri patra biryani is flavoured with a lot of tomatoes and the best place to have it is in Mumbai’s Bohri Mohalla. Firoz Farsan dishes out a limited quantity every Sunday, though Ramzan is a great time to savour other delicacies.

There’s a Sindhi Biryani as well, with a pleasing bouquet of flavours using scented spices, roasted nuts, slivers of green chillies and a tang imparted by sour yoghurt and Aloo Bukhara (plums). The Memons of Gujarat-Sindh have a spicy Memoni biryani made with lamb, yoghurt, fried onions, potatoes and fewer tomatoes than the Sindhi version. They also use less food colouring, allowing the rich colours of the various meats, rice, and vegetables to blend in an appearance that is pleasing to the eye, as it is to the palate.

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Even far flung Assam has its own version called the Kampuri biryani, where chicken is cooked with peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, and yellow bell peppers before being spiced up with cardamom and nutmeg and mixed with rice. The outcome is a tasty, simple dish with meat soaked in fresh flavours of local vegetables.

The recipe to a good biryani is often a closely guarded secret handed down generations, be it in homes, royal kitchens or local restaurants. Hidden in the layers of rice, spices and succulent meat, are little stories of nameless and famous people who have contributed gems to the culinary treasures of India. The adventurous will continue to drool and explore the dazzling range of biryanis on offer while others will seek out the old haunts for time-tested familiar tastes, tinged with nostalgia. Today, preparing a biryani almost has a celebratory connotation. It is a complex culinary creation that requires love and patience above all other ingredients. Otherwise, the world would be happy with fried rice!

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared as the Cover Story on 16 October 2016 in Sunday Herald newspaper.

Pulp Fiction: Mango Mania

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With a history of over 4000 years, the mango remains the undisputed king of fruits, inspiring poets, musicians, architects and designers for centuries. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY indulge in a bit of mangolomania…

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It is with good reason that the gold-skinned mango is regarded as the fruit of the gods. According to Puranic lore, goddess Parvati playfully covered Lord Shiva’s eyes one day, plunging the universe into absolute darkness. To atone for her transgression, she performed great austerities. She fashioned a lingam out of sand under a mango tree and worshipped Lord Shiva ardently. Pleased by her unwavering devotion, Shiva relented and Kamakshi, the lovelorn goddess was reunited with her lord under the same mango tree. The temple that commemorates this incident is called Ekambaranath – after ekya (united), amra (mango), nath (Lord) – and a mango tree still stands in the compound of the Shiva shrine in Kanchipuram.

Though the original 3,500-year-old tree has withered and a portion of its trunk is on display behind a glass case in the temple hallway, its offshoot in the central courtyard is unique. Its four branches bear fruits of four different shapes and tastes, which supposedly represent the four Vedas. This legend highlights not only the significance of the mango since antiquity, but also suggests the art of grafting was known in ancient India.

Kanchipuram Ekambranath Temple Mango Tree-Anurag Mallick

The mango has been around for over 4000 years in India with nearly as many varieties. The mango is to Indians what chocolate was to the Aztecs. Associated with Kama the god of love, the heavenly mango is hailed as the messenger of spring, a poetic perch for cuckoos and the eternal fruit of seduction. From Kalidasa to Khusrau, poets and writers have waxed eloquent about it. In Ritu Samharam (An Account of Seasons), Kalidasa describes spring thus, ‘Intoxicated by the nectar of mango blossoms, the cuckoo kisses his mate happily in love, the lovely mango shoot is his choicest arrow, the swarm of bees is his bow string. ‘Ambua ki daari se bole re koyaliya’, is the most popular bandish (set of words tied together in a raga) in Raag Bageshwari.

Revered in scriptures and lauded in literature, music and poetry, the mango’s resonating imprint can be found everywhere. From leaf to seed, the mango has been celebrated in textiles, jewelry and architecture across India –the gold zari borders of Kanjeevaram saris, the block prints of Rajasthan, the paisley motifs of Kashmir or Kantha embroidery in Bengal. As an auspicious symbol, mango leaves are hung outside homes and temples during festivals and around a kalasha (urn) for ceremonies. The sacrificial fire is not complete without dry twigs and branches of the sacred mango tree.

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Since Vedic times, raw boiled mangos, cumin, sugar and salt was a remedy for dehydration and combating heatstroke. Ironically, a product of summer, it is also an antidote for it. In Ayurveda, tender mangoes with salt and honey helps aid digestion. However, it wasn’t until the middle of last century that the mango was taken to another level by its connoisseurs.

If the mango is the undisputed king of fruits, it is an irrefutable fact that it was the kings who elevated the mango to what it is today, offering it royal patronage across the country. Chausa, originally produced in Sindh and Multan, was popularized by Sher Shah Suri after his victory over Humayun at the Battle of Chausa in 1539. To commemorate the event, he named his favorite mango ‘Chausa’ and helped propagate it throughout the subcontinent.

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In 1704, Murshid Quli Jafar Khan, the first Nawab of Bengal, transferred his capital from Dacca to Murshidabad in West Bengal. Until the British defeated Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, many hybrid varieties were developed under the patronage of the Nawabs. Even today, Murshidabad is home to over a hundred varieties of mangoes – Dilpasand, Mirzapasand, Gulabbhog and Kohitoor to name a few.

In Bihar, the Maharaja of Darbhanga got a German botanist Charles Maries to develop exclusive hybrids. Varieties like Durga Bhog, Sundar Prasad and Shah Pasand can still be found in the private orchard of the Maharani’s residence in Darbhanga – Kalyani Niwas. Maries stayed in Darbhanga from 1882 till the death of Maharaja Lakshmeshwar Singh in 1898 and even named a mango after his patron –Lakshmeshwar Bhog. Maries’s unpublished treatise ‘Cultivated Mangoes of India’ and a volume of his drawings are kept at the Royal Botanic Garden archives at Kew, London.

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Andhra Pradesh’s large golden yellow mango Baiganpalli, popular across South India, hails from Banganapalle, the capital of a princely state from 1790-1948. The success of the Dussehri or Dashehari can be traced to the Nawabs of Lucknow and a 300-year-old tree in the village of Dussehri. The property of the Nawabs of Lucknow, the mangoes of this tree are never auctioned or sold. The fruits are handpicked and taken to the Nawab’s family who incidentally stay in ‘Dusseheri House’.

Legend has it that Mirza Ghalib had tried all of 4000 varieties of mango prevalent in India during his time. ‘Aam aur Ghalib’, a literary circle dedicated to the appreciation of mangoes and Mirza has met in Lucknow annually for the last 30 years. The mango has inspired many a tale. If the Neelam featured extensively in David Davidar’s ‘The House of Blue Mangoes’, across the border Mohammed Hanif found inspiration for his political satire ‘A Case of Exploding Mangoes’. In Nagarjun’s gripping book ‘Balchanwa’, a child recalls his father trespassing into a private orchard in Darbhanga to take two kishenbhogs and is ultimately lynched by the feudal owner. To think an army officer could shoot a child for pilfering mangoes a few years ago goes to prove how little things have changed…

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In the story ‘Gulab Khas’, famous Urdu writer Abul Fazal Siddiqi describes a mango contest held every five years in which the northern aristocracy judges the best new cultivar. When a dispute breaks out between two leading mango growers of the region, the arbitrator feels that “the eyes of the whole subcontinent were riveted on him,” and that his task is “fraught with historical import.” In the end, the cultivar grown by a humble female gardener—the gulab khas—wins the prize, leaving the landowners outraged and baffled. While touching upon the prevalent feudal tensions in India at the time, Siddiqi masterfully describes the taste, blush and textures of various mangoes.

When Urdu poet Akbar Hussain Rizvi, better known by his pen name Akbar Allahabadi, sent a box of the legendary langda mangoes to Muhammad Allama Iqbal in Lahore, Iqbal acknowledged it with a couplet. “Asar hai teri aijaz-e-masihaee ka ay Akbar, Allahabad se langda chale Lahore tak pahunche.” ‘Akbar, this is the miracle of your healing powers like a Messiah, langda the lame travelled from Allahabad to Lahore!’ Last year, it was the turn of Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif to send crates of chausa to Indian PM Narendra Modi!

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India’s legendary mango belt of Lucknow-Allahabad has varieties people swear by – from Dussehri, Fazli, Lucknowa, Jauhari, Safeda, Amrapali to Husnara. Malihabad alone produces 1.5 lakh tonnes of mangoes every year worth Rs.150 crores, earning a mention in the Hrithik Roshan movie ‘Lakshya’. After nearly half a millennia of innovation, mango farmer and Padmashri Awardee Haji Kaleemullah Khan of Malihabad continues his relentless exploration and experimentation with his beloved fruit. Though growing dussehri mangoes had been a family tradition for three hundred years, his fascination for mango grafting started when he heard about cross-bred roses as a child. In the 20-acre Abdullah Nursery he inherited from his father, Kaleemullah’s legendary tree Al Muqarrar has borne over 300 varieties on its branches.

From Glass, Prince and Anarkali to the heart-shaped Asroor Mukarar, each specimen has a story – Karela looks like a bitter gourd while Aamin Lamba is so long it almost touches the ground. His nomenclature is a barometer for the fluctuating fortunes of Indian cinema, sports and politics where each new variety is named after a celebrity who’s the flavor of the season. So there’s Aishwarya, Sonia, Sachin (a unique hybrid of Gudshah and Chausa) and Akhilesh– like UP’s young CM, the tree bore fruit at a tender age of five! Predictably enough, now there’s a Modi aam too. A cross between Lucknow’s dussehri and Kolkata’s Husn-e-aara, it has crimson streaks that give it a rare and appealing hue!

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Of the 23 million tonnes of mango produced globally every year, nearly 56% comes from India, making it the largest mango producer in the world, an industry worth $360 million. With the onset of summer, the heady procession of various varieties of mangos begins. The season starts in April with early varieties like Bambaiyya, Pairi and Banganapalli, Alphonso and Dussehri in mid-June and late-maturing Fazli, Neelam and Chausa in July-August. The list of regional stalwarts is impressive – Kesar and Valsad of Gujarat, Fernandina and Malcorada (Mankurad) of Goa, Malda, Himsagar and Kishenbhog of Bengal, Gulabkhas of Bihar, Langda of Banaras, Totapuri from Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, Raspuri from Mysuru, the small green kaad mangay (wild mangoes) of Kodagu’s forests and the king of mangoes, the Alphonso or Hapoos of Ratnagiri.

The legendary Alphonso is named after Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515), the second governor of Portuguese India. Enamoured by this tropical fruit, the Portuguese experimented with mango grafting using European methods. On the many forays between their colonies, they took some saplings to Brazil and one of the grafts provided a perfect fruit. The variety was baptized Affonse and came back to India in the 16th century as Alphonso. Locals mispronounced it as Aphoos in Konkani and by the time it spread from Goa to Maharashtra and Gujarat, it was called Hapoos.

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Astute Gujaratis know that as summer ends, so will the supply of mangoes, so they bottle it up in various forms – from marmalade, preserves, pickles to bell jars of aam ras, consumed with puris, parathas or as is. The mango mania is most apparent at Valsad and Navsari districts. Each variety has its uses. Totapuri, shaped like the beak of the parrot, makes for a great snack with salt and chili. The small but fleshy Sindura, named after its striking red rouged skin, is perfect for milk shakes. Chausa is good as it is – usually rolled between the palms to loosen the pulp, nipped, squeezed and sucked straight from the fruit.

Atithi Parinay at Kotawde, a charming homestay run by Medha Sahasrabuddhe midway between Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule, offers mango tourism – unlimited mangoes during summer. The orchard of 25 trees has mostly hapoos besides Kesar, Neelam, Dudh peda and Vanraj. Follow the mango trail down the Konkan coast to homestays like Pitruchaya near Devgad and Dwarka Farms near Malvan.

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In Bangalore vendors line the wide footpath of Palace Road as commuters stop to pick up the season’s catch. In Mumbai, mango aficionados are ready to travel to the wholesale APMC Market at Vashi in Navi Mumbai (if not all the way to Ratnagiri) to buy them by the crate. All of Delhi eagerly waits for the International Mango Festival in July to have all wonderful varieties under one roof.

With a long hot summer and over a thousand recipes waiting to be prepared, it won’t be long before every fruit that dangles like a luscious golden bauble from its leafy branches is harvested and devoured. The mangophiles are already swarming the marketplace like mango flies around a fruit basket…

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FACT FILE: A-Z of Mangoes

Alphonso/Hapoos
Origin: Ratnagiri, Maharashtra
Golden yellow when ripe with firm, fibreless orange pulp, not very fragrant

Amrapali
Origin: Uttar Pradesh
Hybrid of Neelam and Dussehri with reddish orange skin and pulp

Banganapalli
Origin: Andhra Pradesh
Large sized, sweet, also called safeda, because of the whitish colour of the pulp

Chausa
Origin: Pakistan/North India
Small golden yellow when ripe, rich aroma with sweet, juicy pulp, great sucking mango

Dussehri
Origin: Malihabad, UP
Medium sized fruit, with pleasant flavour, sweet, firm fibreless pulp, thin stone

Fazli
Origin: Bangladesh/East India
Sweet juicy pulp, low fibre, large fruit (almost a kilo), late maturing variety

Gulabkhas
Origin: Bihar
Rosy flavor, gorgeous blush, non-fibrous pulp great for mango desserts

Himsagar
Origin: Bengal
Thin-skinned with smooth, extremely sweet silky flesh and sugary pulp

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Kalapahar
Origin: Bengal
Small green variety that’s so delicate it’s kept on a cushion of leaves

Kesar
Origin: Gujarat
Green-skinned, irregular shaped with intense aroma, bright orange flesh and very sweet and tart.

Kishenbhog
Origin: Bihar/Bengal
Medium to large sized, with pleasant sweet flavour and firm, fibrous flesh

Langda
Origin: Varanasi, UP
Mildly fibrous with a distinct pine taste of turpenoline

Malgova
Origin: Tamil Nadu
Large green fruit with crimson blush, very fleshy with spicy sweet yellow pulp and small stone

Mallika
Newer hybrid of Neelam and Dussehri named after its beautiful appearance, honey sweet with notes of citrus and melon

Mankurad
Origin: Goa
Derived from Malcorada, large fruit with fibreless, firm flesh

Neelam
Origin: Hyderabad
Late maturing variety, large, juicy and very aromatic, bright orange pulp but named after its blue-green skin

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Pairi
Origin: Goa/Coastal Maharashtra
Oval-shaped with fibreless texture and spicy aroma, great for juicing

Raspuri
Origin: Mysore, Karnataka
Oval-shaped, reddish yellow skin, excellent flavour and juicy, hence the name

Shah Pasand
Origin: Bihar
Small, yellow, kidney-shaped

Totapuri
Origin: Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu
Curvaceous mango with typical parrot-beak shape, crunchy and tangy, often pickled or eaten raw, along with its skin

Vanraj
Origin: Vadodara, Gujarat
Oblong with blush of jasper red

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June 2016 issue of Discover India magazine.