We continue our journey into my home- town from where we left last in Part 1 of my article earlier.
After the Panjrapol visit, we took a break from our morning exploration for all things food and local and joined my father’s uncle in his office. He is a gentleman in his 80’s, a well renowned criminal lawyer in the town and a lover of food as well.
Just outside his office, everyday, a street-cart holds shop where the owner makes and serves a simple dish of Poori (Pooris are wheat-flour tortiallas deep-fried) and potato vegetable. We decided to order food from there, as my father’s uncle couldn’t find words enough to describe his love for it. And true to every word, once we started, we just couldn’t stop. The poori’s came puffed and hot and I had never seen them go down so quickly. The dish was extremely simple – served with freshly chopped onions and fried green chillies. Surendranagar is famed for its green chillies by the way.
There was something about the preparation of the potato vegetable that we are still trying to figure out even today. We tried asking the vendor the recipe and while we were told that it was a very basic onion, garlic and potato vegetable along with some Garam masala (Indian spice mix), the taste was something I will never forget. In fact, I rate this higher than the Paratha place I mentioned in the part 1 of my most in terms of the taste factor. This is a very basic, no frills place. Do not expect anything extra-ordinary about the presentation or the serving.
Post the brilliant lunch; we headed to explore a bit more of the town. My mother was bent on visiting a local saree weaver as they were famed to make the famous Patola sarees there. Patola is a type of weaving technique for Sarees and Gujarat is famed for them.
En route, however, we came across another street-cart – this time laden with an indigenous version of sodawater – called “Goti-Soda”. This is a peculiar arrangement where a glass bottle is filled with carbonated water and sealed with a round marble (called Goti in Hindi) and hence, its name. We opted for the traditional Masala soda, which is basically a mix of salt, pepper and lemon juice topped with this soda water. Nothing perks you up after a heavy lunch as this drink.
Heading on track again, we visit this small house where a family worked to create these beautiful Patola sarees, which, were marketed to various shops in metro cities for very good prices. Some patola sarees take more than six months to weave and we came across some that were priced even more than Rs. One lakh [About $ 1400]. Such is the value and creativity of these local artisans.
Our next stop was to the sister village of Surendranagar called “Wadhwan”. Here in this small town, is a remarkable gentleman called Akbar who makes an amazing dish called “Lasaniya Batata” (Garlicy Potatoes). Now you would wonder, what is so special about Garlic potatoes but one bite of this dish is enough to leave you questioning about all the potato and garlic vegetables that you would have had till date. This dish – a red-hot gravy simmering with loads of spices, chilli and oodles of tamarind, is enough to make you think of devious ways of how to not share it with anyone and eat all of it. I am not exaggerating here..I never do that and those who know me well will vouch for this trait of mine.
The story of Akbar and his Lasaniya bateta goes this way. This gentleman makes this dish at his home and sells it at a particular spot in the local village every evening after five. Once his exhausts his stock, that’s the end of the market day for him. I have had my father bring me this dish to Mumbai many times earlier whenever he would travel to Surendranagar and there are times when I have had it as late as mid-night after dad would come home from the trip. It is absolutely addictive and as I write this, believe me, my mind is already drifting to the next possible trip to savour this vegetable.
On that trip, we tried visiting Akbar’s place to understand a bit of the history of this dish but unfortunately, he was closed and we were only allowed a peek into this kitchen. But am pretty sure the pictures that I have are enough to get you to understand my love for this dish and the spices it has.
Moving further on the food journey, we dropped in to visit my grandfather’s friends in that village. While his friend is no more, his wife, who I consider as my grandmother decided to help me on this food quest of mine. She shared with me a traditional, age-old recipe of Bitter-gourds stuffed with something that we Gujarati’s call “Gathiyas”. This was a recipe that was made in the 40’s and 50’s. The other ladies of the house shared their recipes too. One was a pretty interesting one called “Waghda ni Kadhi” – a curry that was made by local nomads who basically survived on whatever vegetable they could get and made this creation. It’s amazing the kind of recipes one gets when they travel and actually ask around.
On the final evening in Surendranagar, we decided to go local again for dinner. Now, during the winter months – till about February maybe, there is another local vegetable called green gram that is widely available in Gujarat. These are like fresh green chickpeas I guess. So, during the winter months, pop-up shops open up in town serving a traditional Gujarati meal of “Rotla” which is basically a flatbread made of Millet flour, “Ringna No Olo” which is Roasted aubergine in a spice gravy and “Jhinjra nu shaak” which is the fresh green gram in a spicy tomato based gravy. The dishes are served with an unlimited serving of homemade fresh white butter and freshly cut onions.
Sitting out in the wintery open air on small rickety tables with platefuls of these delish vegetables, bread, rice and buttermilk to wash it all down, it is an experience. All the dishes are cooked on charcoal burners that actually lend them the slightly burnt, rustic taste and add to the flavour. The spices from the aubergine and green gram vegetables make you weep – both with happiness on having savoured the meal as well as the hotness of the chilli but you learn to take them both together. The flavours are extremely rustic and local but extremely comforting. The fresh butter and Jaggery given along with soothe your palate as you tread through the spices from the vegetables. I couldn’t have asked for a better meal to end my short visit to this town.
The trip was short on time but loaded with food experiences and more ideas to explore in the future. It kind of surprised me how less I knew about my hometown although having been there quite a few times earlier. I guess, all it needed for me was a new perspective and intent in exploring it a bit differently. This is just one small town we are speaking of here, but imagine the scores of such places around India and how much we can still explore around.
I intend continuing on my food journey – a 2nd phase soon in a few months to explore more local specialities and document them further.
Till then, keep exploring..