Time and again we look in for ideas to inspire us, to bring in change in our uniform lifestyle in short to break the uniformity. Food is one such medium which continually demands fresh, innovative and more appetizing ingredient for constantly changing global palate. My recent trip to the jewel of western part of India i.e. Gujarat gave a new perspective to gourmet writing, Ahmadabad is not just prosperous in terms of its traditional climate but also rich in its culinary splendor. To understand a place in better light is either though people or through their food and the rest is in between and I certainly followed the rule book of following the food trail of the place.
Ahmadabad is diversely rich in taste, which seems to be threaded into the fabric with traditional flavor oozing from every corner whether it’s street or fine dine. I started my culinary journey right from the door of the university. The periphery of busy University Road, Navrangpura, is taken by vendors with all kinds of food stalls mushrooming around the campus vicinity, though it was not a great visual delight but inside those grubby stalls is a heaven for food lovers. I treated myself with local snacking delicacy called ‘kheechu’, a simple dish made out of rice flour, on first glance it looks more or less like mashed potatoes but as it is said that appearances could be deceptive and so it was true in this case too. Nevertheless what appearance may say my verdict a ‘must try’. It is a digestible, healthy afternoon snack and is readily sold on the streets of Gujarat (as I was told by a friend). It is served piping hot when it is soft and aromatic with a good hand of red chili, green chili, roasted cumin seed powder and a dash of oil (a word of caution, it’s not olive for health conscious or butter for taste lovers so in short it’s not guilt free) but the quantity of these condiments can be moderated according to taste. This dish can be best enjoyed with a tall glass of butter milk.
The second on my list was the delectable poha (made from flattened rice (A light and healthy breakfast option). The preparation was nice and succulent. The masalas were just right with a hint of sweet and tangy flavor. They serve it with generous amount of cheese, roasted peanuts, boondi and grated beetroot, which not only adds color but makes it a healthier and attractive alternative.
The third on my list was ‘cheese thepla’, a fusion of east and west. The owner (uncle) runs his eatery from his van, he carries an array of condiments and chutney and variety of local cuisine all prepared by him at his home. For this dish he took precooked thepla as a base, added a good amount of butter, green chutney, garlic chutney ,some masalas and grated cheese , he then adds another layer of thepla ( like a sandwich) and cuts triangular pieces with a pizza cutter and serves. This dish does not require any baking or heating and is served cold.
Next was sev puri /chat puri, another favorite street food, though originated in Mumbai but is savored in other parts of India as well. As the name suggests sev is topped on puris or papdis along with potatoes and chutneys which leaves a tangy, crisp and tongue tickling taste on the taste buds. The taste and recipe varies from every bhewalas but will certainly leave you lurking for more.
(Biscuit pizza- another street delicacy)
All these street fare can be best enjoyed with a piping cutting tea available at a vendor nearby, which are by the way, a great hangout joints for young and old alike. They enjoy food and politics at these ‘addas’ with same fare, reminiscing ‘chai culture’ practice in our county.
I moved on to my next objective i.e. to seek the grandeur facet of the city and give my experimental palate an authentic taste of Guajarati cuisine. On high recommendation I was taken to a place called ‘Agashye’, an ‘urban heritage’ amid ultra modern city skyline. The place has treasured and contained all the empirical fanfare and charm, right from the entrance to the dining area- it’s a visual treat and the guest can enjoy the subtlety and regality of the bygone era. They have neatly curated the interweaving of checkered floor tiles, fountain, light fixtures and atheistically placed artifacts which included a Gandhian charkha and study desks. Guests are welcomed with enchanting essence of Indian rose mildly present in the air which followed us till the upper deck or terrace.
The dining area was divided into two- 1) open air or terrace setting and 2) a closed sitting with large dining tables. We decided to enjoy our meal outside amid complete razzmatazz of breezy evening with light drizzle; my already entranced senses were further compelled to add high notes of romance by candle placed on the table (inside a kerosene lamp which was more rustic than romantic but nevertheless added to the ambiance) and rose kept above dinner napkins, copper thali’s were neatly placed with equal number of bowls on every table.
The royal treatment begins the moment you are seated with starters like scrumptious dhokla (served with green chutney) and lip smacking allo bonda (served with sweet and tangy red color chutney), a delectable salad, chaat (which is dahi bhala for north Indian) and a big platter of variety of sweet and tangy chutney and ghee and a glass of chass (spiced butter milk).
The main course comprise of astounding selection of victurals like- coconut stuffed flavorsome lady finger, green lentil (moong dal) sabzi, lightly spiced aloo ki sabzi, corn and coiled spinach ( gatte/besan ki sabzi),yellow lentil with hint of mango and jaggery, mildly flavored shrikand, pulao, khicdi, parathas and other assorted Indian breads. My personal favorite was ragi with graceful serving of butter milk.
But, as it is said save the best for the last, so it was true at ‘Agashiye’, on one of staff insistence( as I was full till my brim…lol) I tried their moong dal halwa bursting with subtleness of cardamom, ghee, sugar and dry fruits, filling the roam with its aroma. Finally,to sum up this exiciting gastronomic promenade they brought a creamy and flavorsome homemade paan ice cream and believe me it was worth a try. A single scoop pushed around sudh desi Banarasi taste in my mouth which completed my meal.
To conclude it all, a good food is best savored if it is experienced through senses and fortunately the place provided me with that experience, it was bang on taste, with hint of flavors touching the just the right notes of the palate, its sweetness or tanginess never jarred my taste buds but every bite was a satiating occurrence which I now like to call a journey. Also, healthy snacking at roadside joints helped me in putting my skepticism at rest and I found a new affinity with roadside food leaving me wanting for more.