Hot fafra with a handful of papaya chutney, a couple of quick-fried green chilis, and some jalebis to balance the taste. All wrapped up in a cone of old newspaper. And chai. That’s the breakfast we’d looked forward to when we arrived by the early morning flight to Bhuj. We refused the breakfast buffet in the hotel and asked Sikandar (oh yes, the name is the equivalent of Alexander) to take us to his favourite roadside breakfast place. He looked a little taken aback as he said “It’s a little late for breakfast, but let’s see.”
It was late, but not very late. We could get the breakfast cart to fry up some fafra. I love this breakfast. Everything is fried. A nice change from our usual yoghurt and fruit, or toast and cheese breakfasts. But Sikandar had a different muqaddar in mind for us. As our driver for the day he’d appointed himself the representative of overwhelming Bhujio hospitality. Before we’d finished, he dumped a couple of paper plates on the table. And then the cart chap slapped another packet wrapped in newpaper on the table, along with a plate of syrupy chutney.
At other times we love dhoklas. These were hot, fluffy, steamed pieces. We wouldn’t have minded them at all. But in the streets of Bhuj you don’t just have dhokla. You have a plateful of loaded dhokla: drenched in savoury and sweet chutneys, topped with spiced yoghurt and sev, and with fried green chili on the side. The other newspaper packet unfolded to reveal crisp dal pakodas. We were busy sending photos to friends and family, and getting more suggestions for things to eat in response. The only sensible statement came from an old college friend, “Seems like a lot.” I would remember it the rest of the day.
The Family is a great forager. My shopping trips start with a list, and, sometimes, when some of the things on the list are not available, I replace them with the nearest equivalent. The contents of the bag do not surprise anyone. When The Family leaves home, I have no idea what she will get back. The trip that she took to work also yielded some surprises. A few landed up on our table instantly. The samosas and the hot vadas (without pav, unfortunately) were what I liked best. She put it on the last remaining piece of the first table setting we’d bought together. The usual rule of ceramics seems to be holding up: a chipped plate never breaks.
The fluffy hot dhoklas were another surprise. She’d also managed a peek into the kitchen where they had been prepared. As we demolished a large part of her findings, I listened to her stories of foot operated hand sanitizer dispensers, thin crowds in favourite shops, and clean kitchens. The first wave of infections is not over in Mumbai yet. As long as people remain masked, and spend most of their time distancing from each other, there should be no disastrous second wave.
Our train arrived in Jamnagar in time for breakfast. This is a big affair anywhere in Gujarat. Before we could get to the food I needed chai. Lots of it. There had been precious little of it on the train. It wasn’t a problem here at all. These guys were set up to serve the perfect Gujarati tea: milky, boiled with dust tea, lots of sugar and ginger, a perfect early morning drink really: the sweetness of fruit juice with a kick of caffeine.
A cup in hand, I was ready to look at the legendary cook who makes the best breakfast in the neighbourhood. He sat surrounded by his parapharnelia, kneading a twist of besan mixed with ajwain. In a short while he’d rolled out strips of fafra and thrown them into a kadhai full of hot oil. Thin strips of gathia followed. The fat chilis were already fried and waiting on a thali in front of him.
Jalebi and dhokla appeared from jars next to him. Unlike the north, where jalebi is eaten hot, Gujaratis eat jalebi cold. This cook is a specialist; he makes his living selling breakfast in this tiny but extremely popular stall. Our table was soon piled with plates full of all these things. “The chilis make this a high fibre breakfast compared to what we had in Hampi,” I remarked to The Family. It was going to be hard not to put on weight if our breakfasts continued to be like this.