I think "Vaanga" [Egg Plant or Brinjal] is under rated. If prepared properly a "Masala Vaangi" can beat any other dish. This fact i discovered a few years back at a lunch at my friend's place. His mom had prepared delicious "Vaangi Curry". It was simmering hot curry with Brinjals neatly cut, horizontally floating and dipped inside the curry. It was brownish green in color and if i had a vote on this - it was the best Egg Plant dish i ever had. I mean EVER in bold and caps.
Accompanying the curry were feather weight phulkas all puffed up with white loni (home made butter) dripping through it's center. Can you top that? Buttered Phulkas with Vangi Curry and thats it.
That lunch still lingers on.I would be honest. Till that point of time in my life, i treated Brinjal with derision. Almost with contempt. That was the day this purple vegetable worked itself up my taste pallet ladder.
There's this thing about food. The taste has to match the mood. It is almost like music. Sometimes you want to listen to "Blues" while sometimes even hard Rock is good. Sometimes you may even want a Shiv Kumar Sharma. What the heck - lets just say food is like music.
This was some years ago. It was a wintry morning. We were driving overnight, back after attending a wedding in Bangalore. We were 7 or 8 of us, all college friends. We had rented a Tata Sumo. It must have been around 5:30ish in the morning when the driver thought of taking a break. He parked at a road side Dhaba and the Dhabawala was just about opening his shop. Every one was sleepy and sluggish. But we were hungry too. So we thought of getting down and have some tea and stop ahead for a proper breakfast later. The driver though had other plans. He asked the Dhabawala to make something for him. The Dhabawala told him he was about to make some parathas if he was interested. Some of us then jumped in and told him they won't mind trying out too.
Before we knew, all of us had gulped our way to more than 30 parathas. The parathas kept coming and we kept eating. It was kick-ass. It was delicious. It was the paratha of the century if i have to take liberty with exaggeration. It was out of the world. Also it wasn't small in size or anything. The size was alright. Not too thick , not too thin. But perfect. Just perfect.
All we had with that paratha was a small side dip of spiced up curd.Hot circles with a side curd. We just wouldn't stop eating.So 5:30 in the morning we were hogging like animals. It was an amazing experience.
This proves another thing. May be you like food you did not expect to be that good. As in, we were just done about rubbing our sleepy eyes and were preparing to have a bit of taste of the paratha and leave. But it was so unexpectedly delicious, it just took us off on a runway. That we had repercussions of over-eating later is a different issue. [Hogging can ring a different meaning in Hindi though!]
Those parathas were made by a Sardarji who did not care too much for them. He was making it as a routine. I wonder if he knew he had this talent? Was he aware they were so damn delicious?
So what is that one dish, that one meal that you would just die for? I think i may have a few on my list. So let me start here..
- Savji or Saoji Chicken
My wife has one such dish up her sleeve. Savji Chicken. We only recently discovered the recipe through a friend. And ever since, she has made it a few times. Thats the thing though, about these "to-die-for" dishes. They should be tried only in less frequency as you might end up disliking the dish altogether. This happened to me for a couple of dishes. For example Butter Chicken and Paneer Butter Masala. I don't think I have had these two in last 7 years. I over ate them at some point in my life. So we make it a point to have Savji Chicken only once in few months to maintain it's aura.
But the day we have it, we drool. We are all over it. With spring and regular onions nicely cut and placed just by the side, Savji Chicken can kick some serious butts. The multi-layered, extremely dark and red in color curry, the more than average oily dish can also cause trouble next day if the spice level is not calibrated. But for that extreme spice level, Savji Chicken is right up there on the list.
- Bombay Pav Bhaji.
Yes, and please have "Bombay" Pav Bhaji in Bombay only. Don't try it in Pune. It doesn't stick. Get down at any suburban local train station in Bombay. You would find a couple of fast food stalls right outside the station with crowd all round it. If you don't find such a stall, you are probably not in Bombay. Find your way through the crowd and grab that awesome plate. The plate with thick bhaaji almost overflowing the metal and with very finely cut onion with a small piece of cut lemon right at the center. This can give any other dish on this earth a run for its money. But more importantly the Bombay Pav Bhaaji's crowning glory is the Butter soaked Pav. The slightly yellowish tinged small puffed and very soft pav. You should surprise yourself if you don't order "extra pav"
- Pudachi Vadi and Puran Poli made by my Mom.
These two are the quintessential festival food dishes. Un paralleled in taste. They both are extremely calorie-rich and can disturb the balance of the diet-time-table. It's hard to have them in reasonable quantities. While melted ghee placed between the puran poli only adds to it's irresistibility; the perfectly developed crust around the kothimbir in Pudachi Vadi adds to the perfect combination of ingredients.
There's this thing about Pudachi Vadi. It grows taste as it grows old. An already irresistible Pudachi Vadi becomes almost compelling after a day or two. Imagine yourself in front of the Television watching an India-Aussie match and your mom gets a plate of Pudachi Vadi with a little sauce on the side. I can only top it up with a bottle of beer.
You would think that the best Pizza you ever had was in Papa Jones,Domino's or De Generos. Or the Chicago style stuffed Pizza or the California one. Or you would think Italy, the birth place of Pizza, would have you the best Pizza.
Think again! What if this Pizza is Indianized? Green Chilli, Heavy Tomato suace, filled with toppings in a smaller circle.
Total Ghaati. If you are up for it, try going to Mathura Restuarant on Jangli Maharaj Road in Pune. It serves the world's best Ghati Pizza. And as far as i am concerned, the best Pizza.
- Kristoffer's Cake
I am not so much into sweets. I don't find them appealing and wouldn't go all the way for deserts or cakes. But there's this one small little shop in the "Little Italy" town of Chicago. It's called Kristoffer's cake. If you ever happen to visit Chicago and miss going to Sears Tower, don't worry; you haven't missed much. But make sure you taste a cake at this place. It's beyond cake. It's beyond yummy. It is beyond words.It's Niravana
Last week on my suggestion someone in my team got it for our team meeting. That was the first time ever in our meetings that the cake got over. And it got over within no time. We did not have to place it in the cafeteria and send email to people saying , "there's a cake left over in the cafe so please help your self". The cake was not there. It just vanished.
There are so many dishes that i want to go on and on with the list. But to make it real quick here's an ancillary list of dishes i would just crave for at any point of time.
The ancillary list
- Mom's home made pani puri
- Mon's home made cut mango pickle
- Road side Sandwich in Bombay
- Sukha Bhel made by my Wife
- Wada Pav in Pune
- Aloo Bhonda at Keshav's Nagpur
- Samosa anywhere in Nagpur
- Dahi Samosa at Aaswad, Nagpur
- Zhunka Bhakar and Thecha at my ancestor's village in Yeotmal district
- Masale Bhaat and tup made by my paternal aunt
- Ghugras made at my maternal grandmother's place
- Dal Fry and Steam Rice made by my wife
- Sev Batata Puri at Anushaktinagar Colony in Mumbai
Some of the food outlets i thought were Superb
- Shravan - [pure vegetarian] in Pune
- Mathura - again in Pune
- Mahesh Lunch Home, again in Pune
- Sanjha Chula - Nagpur
- Barbeque - Nagpur
- Ashoka - Nagpur
- Any Shiv Sagar, Sukh Sagar in Mumbai
- Buffalo Wild Wings, Bloomington, IL
And lastly -
Best Soup i ever had - "Mulligatawny Soup" Taj Savoy, Ooty
Best Chicken Dish i ever had - "Shahi Kabab", Taj Ernakulam, Cochin.