Thursday, December 29, 2016

Calicut Momo Fiesta

The access to diversity and quality of food always has been the core value of Calicut food industry. Another key quality of Calicut food culture has been its adaptability to different genre of food. A good example of this is the mushrooming food joints copying the American fried chicken concept and are offering almost the same quality, ambience and the value system associated with it.Food joints in Calicut and the places around have utilized all alphabets Á’to ‘Z’’, as prefix for FC (Fried Chicken) as names.
So is the case with Italian food. New joints serving Italian food are opening up in Calicut and people are accepting them happily to be a part of the Calicut brand of food.  
However, the story of Momos in Calicut never has been the same. Momos are always known to be connected with streets and the rest of India, especially its northern side has accepted it as an everyman’s snack. The most popular momo joints are street food joints. Dolma Aunty’s momo joint in Lajpath, New Delhi, is the best example of this. But in Calicut, momos were till now restrained to high end coffee shops and hotels and never were accessible to the foodie public of Calicut. Momos are known in these hotels mostly in the larger bracket of dumplings, which would be an alien term to the streets and street foodies.  
Thankfully, Calicut has now responded to this culinary gap. A ‘’food on wheel’ joint called ‘’Eat Box’” has come up with momos, combining it with the street feel. The Éat Box”’ parks opposite to Sarovaram Bio Park, starting from four in the evening and sells wonderful ‘’Nilpan’” cuisines. (Nilpan is the Malayalam expression referring to having a quick standing drink at a bar counter, without even wasting time to sit down). They are open till eleven thirty in the night.
As in any street kiosk, the menu is simple and straight forward here.  Eat Box serves Momos, Falafel, Kebab Rolls, Cinnamon Tea and couple of premixed fruit flavored drinks.  The rates are pretty reasonable to Kerala standards.


The whole presentation, with an illuminated logo and subtle graffiti is so inviting that, I made my wife wait for half an hour before she was picked up, as I was dragged in by the surprise of street momos in Calicut. The vendor, who had a sling bag as the cash chest was taking impressive efforts to introduce these dishes which are new to the streets of Calicut. He introduces falafel as a softer version of Parippu Vada (Lentil Vada). These to me are signs of momo getting inducted into the culinary vocabulary of the Calicut brand of food.  


Another added pleasure for me at Eat Box was meeting Chandro Jamathia from Udaipur, Tripura, who is the chef at this new venture.  I suggested him to introduce Russian salad, as it is called in the streets of Tripura, a chicken delicacy, which I expect to win the hearts and tongues of Calicut. 
The kebab roll made my day and the Humbai (Thank you in Kokborok, which is the local language of Tripuris) from me, for sure made the day for Chandro Jamathia. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The foodies diary from Agartala

Every food trail in Tripura starts with pork and leads to pork. However, to unearth it you need a real explorers will, as the local food culture of the state is being overpowered by the inevitable consequences of the Bangla cultural hegemony. The local cuisine is now being dominated by Bangla delicacies, however, this is not to be confused with the natural give and take evolution that melting pots of culture undergo. This is exactly why this foodies diary demanded a challenging exploration.
The first food stop was at a tiny tea joint, where we were taken by surprise by the cousin version of 'Madakku' an old time Kerala snack.
Food Snack
Shingli Jamathia, a very talented final year student at NIT Agartala instantly realised the kind of places and food we were looking for. He unleashed all his resources to ensure the richness of our experience.

Food, Food and more Food

Through twists and turns and roads narrow, we reached Lalit Bazar, where we attended a Christmas carnival. And there I found what I was looking for. Stalls umpteen,all serving pork, chicken, fish and snail in diverse formats. That means food, food and more food.
 Russian Salad


Our experiments with food continued

Our experiments with food continued.
Right under the mythic Chethuang tree, which is considered a bridge to heaven, was the Dhabha where our next food encounter happened.
The spread here was elaborate, served one by one as in a multi course meal. The dry fish based side chutney , 'gudog' was strong but unique. The baking soda based chutney 'Puhan awandro' is also an essentiality with rice.
Puhan awandro and gudok

Pork boiled with chilli, garlic and ginger.
One interesting feature was the similarity of the chicken and mutton dishes to a typical 'garam masala' based malabar chicken or mutton masala. We attributed this similarity to the possible influence of missionaries from the southern part of the country.
The grand fiesta was at Baishya Mani Para, where we attended a community event and feasted on the sacrificed goat, pig and chicken.Read more here

FoodRotis, which is a rarity here has yellow and brown versions. The yellow one is made of maida and the brown of wheat. The end note of this diary can't be nothing else than the percieved class question between maida and wheat.As malabar is busy establishing the villain in maida, this part of the world, from where this diary is noted, considers maida a luxury and that's served only to guests, in their honour. The host would rather restrain to wheat roti.
Dennis Debbarma, thank you for the photographs. Teachers this food crazy, was a definite surprise for him. Hambai  Dennis and Shingli.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A day worth reliving a hundred days

It was a day worth reliving a hundred days. We were attending the ' belong ceremony' of Kalai community. It is a tradition being followed since 447 years. The event goes after the Udaipur king handing over the ceremonious sword to Kalai community. The event is called 'Kalai Rai Balma Pandas' which translates Kalai King Carrying Ceremony. Here is where the 7 ministers of the community from all across Tripura come together to make the rules for the community.


This is a closed community event.We were privileged to cross this as were specially invited guests.

The sacred food

The event starts with the sacrifice... Please don't be judgmental here. A pig, a goat and a chicken were sacrificed ceremoniously. And then we cooked it and had the lunch served.

And then the rising trance with, Desi daaru..



And then the Rai (the king) and six ministers were gloriously taken to the throne...


The new king

The current Rai is the 148th.
The event ends with the retiring king taken on the Thang Chang, the chariot to his home. The new king will be selected, rather the sixth minister will be promoted as the king the next day
Special thanks to Dennis Debbarma and Shingli Jamathia for making this possible

Monday, December 5, 2016

Lets Wait for the Incident to happen

Travelling by train, an unfortunate circumstance given the cancellation of flights in Delhi due to fog, led me to relive the inevitable reality – when it comes to woman, action is taken only when an ‘incident’ happens. 

Image source:
Sitting in a near empty compartment and reading the latest e-books, I was finally enjoying some ‘me’ time and reminiscing of some memorable train journeys in the past. I was lost in my own world until it came time for dinner; I rose up from my seat and walked up to the wash stand. I noticed the smell of spirits when I crossed a compartment, twice removed from mine. A group of men (who I later came to know were from the Army) were noisily enjoying high spirits and snacks. It felt unsafe to walk through them and yet it was unavoidable. Suddenly, my safety seemed precarious, a hundred different stories of women being assaulted, shared by aunts, sisters, friends and complete strangers rang true in my ears. It didn’t feel right to just sit there and do nothing. If it wasn’t me, someone else could get hurt, I thought. So, I did the decent thing, I informed the head food server in my compartment and asked him to call the TT. In no time, I saw men slinking away from the said compartment and by the time the much delayed TT arrived, they had all apparently disappeared. 
It was the TT’s explanation that angered me the most, he began by explaining how half the population in the compartment were Army men and were hence in some way above censure. He then went on to tell me, none of the culprits were from the bogey we were in but had seemed to have come in from an adjoining bogey to drink. Next, even more ludicrously he told me that if I wanted to file a complaint, I could do so on ‘Twitter’. For a moment I laughed, wondering how it would have looked, a Twitter post that read, “#heartofjoy@help I am being raped”. He claimed he could take action only when an ‘incident’ was reported.
That’s what happens all the time, isn’t it. We wait for a woman to get assaulted, raped, murdered and then blame it either on her provocative dressing or on her questionable character or on her unfortunate circumstances and if nothing else works we can always blame the man for being drunk and thus senseless. And for all my efforts, I was rudely woken up by two railway policemen at 1am at night and asked for my Seat No. and PNR. That’s it!
India really seems to be shining. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Calicut Brand of Food

It’s said that the evolution of any great food is a give and take process amongst the cultures that the place has been exposed to. The Calicut brand of food vouches for this as every food served here would tell you the cosmopolitan history of Calicut- the Arab, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Along with the export of the ‘spicy spices’, culinary likes and dislikes were also imported. The Biriyani, Appam, the range of diverse Kerala breakfasts, the Mappila snacks, the of-late shakes/sheiks are all products of this cultural give and take.  Not to mention, the cultural openness of Calicut is not just limited to its food, but also extends to its people.
Hari Menon titles his article in Outlook Traveler Oh ! Calicut which shares the same spirit  .
Though 'Calicut Food’ may not classify itself as an approved category within the culinary taxonomy, it is becoming a fast evolving brand. Interestingly, it’s not just about food. The Calicut Food brand has evolved to be much beyond food.  It’s about its people, the way they perceive food, their language, their stories, it's rebellious ‘new generation’ and much more.
Apparently, it’s about the wide range of Mappila and Thiyya food and food joints.However, it has much more to it.
In December 2006,when the whole of South East Asia was running away from the beaches, not to be hit by Tsunami, some hard core foodies of Calicut were found headed towards the beach to have their last ‘Beef Biriyani’ from Rahmath (A hotel in Calicut popular for its Beef Biriyani). They best describe the foodies of Calicut  and are the major contributors to the brand.

The Calicut brand is a also about the curious non-Calicut Keralites whom I over hear quite often, pointing at an old restaurant, referring to it as the original ‘Ustad Hotel’. (Ustad Hotel is a box office super hit Malayalam movie, revolving around a Malabar hotel and its food culture)
Wait a moment, it’s also about the local people who would step into one of those mushrooming coffee joints, and confidently order Lasagna.  Don’t be surprised if you are served hot Lasagna or a Bruschetta in Calicut, matching global standards. Not to mention the best in the world cakes, inheriting the baking history of North Malabar.
For Calicut, which never had a place in the tourism map, its food is bringing people in. The Calicut brand is equally being exported as well.
Here are some snaps taken from Cochin International Airport, where the brand does the trick for them.


Calicut Biriyani

Malabar food

Calicut Food Culture

Calicut Food Culture Politics

Monday, September 19, 2016

Touched by Water: A water travelogue

Water Politics

They immediately caught my attention, not just mine, probably of all the people around in the boggie. This 'big' family, two coupé across mine were all happy and seemed to be on the merry ride. 
Another 'large enough' family, soon joined us and occupied the seat right behind mine. They were a group of serious looking people bound together for some family obligations. They were busy settling their books for the trip. 
The 'big family' , all in black, soon got busy sharing what they had packed for lunch. The limited settings of the second class compartment did not seem to limit the spread of the lunch. 
One man apparently in command of the company behind, stepped forward with an empty 'chaai' cup and extended it towards a girl in the other group, gesturing to pour some from the bottle of ' Bisleri' water she was drinking from. Though surprised, she poured some. He moved on to the open door of the train and threw the water as he washed the cup. ' How rude? said I, but to myself, and so did  the young fair girl's expression. My eyes were rolling around three foci; one the indifferent man; the surprised girl and then the pack of five or so bottles of 'Bisleri' water that was stocked by the girl's family on the overhead carrier. I was surprised of why did not they carry 'their own water' along with the grand spread they had with them. May be they had forgotten and then spent a hundred rupee or so to have 'their own water' in stock.
Interrupting my mind's wander, rather to my surprise, the man, with the washed cup, walked back to the girl and then.. extended the glass once again.
Perplexed was she as she poured a full glass of 'her own Bisleri water'. Quite indifferently, as if a word of gratitude was not due, the man walked away and fed the water to his kid. 
What happened next was magical, just to me, or may be to a few more ill/logical souls as mine. A lady in black, quite possibly the girl's mother, stared a glaring stare at the girl, as if she had done something insane. Not even a word spoken, more people in the 'big family' got involved, none spoke a word, but all seemed to have clear intentions. Taking it all, the girl, shy in nature, but now with conviction, walked up to the man and his family. She seemed to be in complete command now. She extended the 'bottle of 'Bisleri water 'and asked "would you like to have more?. "
Now perplexed was the man, but in a loving Kasarkode accent she insisted 'Ithu Vacholi'. 
The water now passed from hand to hand amongst the man's family, each of them taking a sip of it. The man's dilemma rose as the bottle passed on gradually losing its content and more importantly it's identity.-From 'their' to 'everyone's'. Reassuring him was the girl with a very satisfied smile and adding more to it came the comments, do not know from where; 'after all its water' and 'they have more water for themselves". 
Now, what am I doing in this train,
watching the water metamorphosis -from 'mine' to 'their' and then to 'everyone's'?. 
I have been rerouted changing from rail to road and then from road to rail, because out there 'they' were killing the 'others' because they took the water which was not 'their'
Good that I rerouted myself, as now I read Menu's, Ann's and Dhanya's Whatsapp messages that, "it's still not safe out there".
Well there"s more 'my own Bisleri water' left with me for the rest of the journey.

The Bottled Hospitality

 (picture courtesy: Painting by: Dhanraj Keezhara)

“The fingers of thirst wither away while probing for edible beans
And man seeks compassion in a devastated body
The earth's mouth opens wide as a begging bowl
"What a marvellous sight it is to watch your secular regimes wagging their tail!
You will draw water upstream
And we downstream
Bravo! Bravo! How you teach chaturvarnya even to the water in your sanctified style!”
Lines by Namdeo Dhasal, translated from Marathi -Paani- by Dilip Chitre