Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bhelpuri Chronicles

The only reason I have discovered I like my office filled with Jasmine gardens on Fridays is that I am mandated to take two full weeks off in a year. With my boss' blessings and grace, I took a week off as I had joined mid year. Someone who is used to calling me if I am more than 13.5 minutes late to office, he couldn't resist the habit of asking my colleagues where I was on a fresh Monday morning at 11:13:30, when I was actually chugging my way to Gangtok on a train with an electric engine.

An English teacher at this point, would strike out my soul-stirred, or rather stomach-stirred essay because the first paragraph doesn't relate to the title. Thankfully, I am done with school.

Another such paragraph and I guess even Pali teachers would do it. So here I go.....

So when I set out on my vacation to Kolkata, Sikkim, Assam and Meghalaya, I had a idea in mind. Chennai is good for sambar. Kolkata for fish/rasgulla. Gangtok for momos and hit beer, Shillong for all moving things except humans. So how do I get a taste of the tastes? I needed to standardize the measuring instrument. After much debate with various corners of my mind, I settled upon Bhelpuri and thus "The Bhelpuri Chronicles". However, I must warn you not to expect anything more than bhelpuri.

Let me start from history.

School/College: Bhelpuri, Andhra style I suppose. Served for evening snacks with tea. Dry. Very dry. Mostly white. The Hindu paper cone. Lots of red chillies. Lots of ground nuts. Lots of spice powder. If you could be one of the last for a few times, you could open a spice powder shop. But the hostel chef was a Tamilian who had once worked as a nutritionist in Netherlands. The bhelpuri probably was a cross breed, inclusive of an alien strain.

Delhi: Oooops....Blanked out!! I can remember only gobbling gol gappas!! (pani puri) 'Gobbling' because I can't make out if one has to eat or drink it for one reason. And 'gobbling' because I used to gobble.

Year 2008. Month April. City Bangalore. Area Shantinagar. I was looking around for a job and happened to notice a bhelpuri cart near my friend's room. At 10 bucks, I got a big paper cone of bhelpuri. My first spoon and the next 4 days, I must have spent 100 bucks! Bhelpuri with lots of spices with carrot grating left me asking for more.Little wet, little dry. Unfortunately, I landed a job at Chennai soon after.

Part 1 The city where punjabi thalis are put through concentration camps. My first bhelpuri was on a beach. Bhelpuri is served in a polythene cover with a plastic spoon. Standard 10 bucks. Non-standard size. You wonder whether you just had onion-cabbage-puri. But you get an option of adding pieces of sour mangoes in summer, and winter too! Only you are not allowed to complain in winter. Few tomatoes, more chilli, less salt.

Part 2 Chennai also has Saravana Bhavan. A typical south Indian restaurant. Just remove some onions, cabbage and mango from above and add a bucket of tamarind chutney with one 'kanjoos' leaf of cilantro. Served on paper plate. Standard size. Non-standard 15 bucks.

Kolkata: Victoria memorial was my first pit stop for Bhelpuri. Given my experience that a cup of tea was available for 1.50 that morning, I expected a cart of Bhelpuri for 10 bucks. I was not entirely wrong!! Bhelpuri here is served in cones with wooden cup ice cream stick. Serious ergonomic problems. You can see for yourself in the picture above. It's wet and the color of the kumkum in Hanuman temples. The taste left me wanting to lick a pickle bottle off the next shelf I found. Had lots of non-bhel items.The bhelpuri was confused whether to be sweet or orange. So it ended up half-way....somewhat sweet and orange in color.

Shillong: Standard 10 bucks. Standard paper plate. My first impression on seeing it was to doubt if the old lady adulterated it with mud. My second impression too felt same in my mouth. But my third impression by taste thankfully proved the first two wrong. Potatoes, channa, some red chilli and a sandy feeling. Yes, you are right. It's the other pic.

I sincerely hope the Bhelpuri chronicles continue....Wish me 'puri' luck....