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.
Now that the idea of a lockdown no longer seems remote, one needs many suggestions on what to do in those long hours you’ll have to spend at home. In order to help you out, I’ve put together this small post on how to gain weight. I cannot claim that this is a method I’ve invented, but it is certainly one I tested in a long weekend in Jamnagar.
Let’s start at the very beginning. The day starts with breakfast, You’ll certainly have jalebi at hand. If not, make some.
Then make gathia. Take besan, add ajwain, powdered pepper, red chili powder, and salt to taste. Knead till the ball is elastic, neither too soft, nor too hard. Then, with a smooth practiced motion, roll out ribbons of gathia. Fry them in hot oil.
The same dough gives you fafra too. You’ll need a flat-bladed knife for this. Also, remember to fry some of those delicious big chilis to go with the sweetness of the jalebi. Deep frying everything is important for your goal.
Remember, you don’t need to fill yourself till you are sick. Just eat enough that you feel you don’t need lunch. Of course you will have lunch, but this is just a measure of fullness. If you’ve overdone it, then just take an extra glassful of that lovely strong, sweet, and milky tea,
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.
We didn’t manage to get much birding done on our aborted walk from Gushaini to the gates of the Great Himalayan National Park at Ropa. It was a bit too late in the morning, and I, for one, was too busy panting during the steep uphill sections to do much looking. So we climbed back down, on a “shortcut” which locals take. This is essentially just short of rolling downhill, until we came to a bridge under construction across the Tirthan river. We clambered across this, and climbed up to a motorable road on the other side. Why? Sanjay, our guide for the day, said that we could possibly see some birds about a kilometer higher up. By the time we decided that it was too late for birdwatching, it was midmorning.
Sanjay said there was a tea shop nearby. I didn’t mind some tea, so we walked down there. The pleasant young person running the shop (featured photo) was happy to make us some. In one corner of his shop was a kadhai full of oil and another full of sugar syrup. Sanjay took a look at these and decided that he wanted jalebis. The mix was ready, but the shop owner did not know how to make them. “Another person comes here and makes them in the morning,” he said. Sanjay decided that he was an expert. We sipped our tea while the stove was lit, and the oil warmed up. Experimental jalebis were made. The Young Niece started laughing when she saw the plate (photo above). They looked nothing like jalebis, but I notice that she ate them all right. They were crisp and sweet and tasted like jalebis.
What would you have for breakfast if you were on the road out of Jodhpur early in the morning? We stopped at one of the many eateries which were already open on the main road: Nai Sarak, to check out the options. First thing, a glass of milk with some saffron thrown in. You can see from the featured photo that it is thickened slightly. It has quite a clientele. I prefer a glassful of chai, but I didn’t mind taking a little sip of the local morning’s brew for the taste. That sip told me that quite a bit of sugar had also been thrown into the mix.
Milk and jalebis are a standard north-Indian breakfast combination. Sure enough, right next to the milk wallah was this jalebi man frying his jalebis. I love watching a person frying jalebis; the elegance of movement which produces these tight spirals is fascinating. The hot jalebis soak up the sugar syrup easily. Traditionally, the sugar has some saffron thrown into it for the colour. Wonderfully tasty stuff, but that oil is hydrogenated, as you can see in the large tin next to the karhai. I don’t have much of jalebi any more, but I did give in to temptation and had one. I had to squelch the temptation to have a second one very firmly.
Two sweets left my mouth too sweet. In Jodhpur the antidotes to an overdose of sweets are easily at hand. The shop had batter-fried chilis. We’d seen a man make them the previous evening (photo above). The Family asked for a hot one right out of the frier, but was told very firmly that they are meant to be eaten cold. We shared one in the morning. The big fat chilis are not very hot, but they are flavourful. They reminded me of the fried chilis we ate in Madrid. So that’s a good breakfast: two sweets, a large glassful of tea, and a fried chili. Just what we needed to set out on a long day’s drive into the desert.
Delhi takes its food seriously. The area around the Red Fort in Delhi was populated during Mughal times. It has seen the sack of Delhi by Nadir Shah in 1739, and again by John Nicholson in 1857. The oldest food stall in this area was reputedly Ghantewala’s sweet shop, which claimed to have been founded in 1790. On my visit to Chandni Chowk a couple of days ago, I was told that it has shut down.
So I walked into a shop selling parathas in the little street called Parathewali Galli. It claimed to have been founded 15 years after the second sack of Delhi. It may not be the oldest establishment in the neighbourhood, but, like all the shops here, it has gone beyond the potato and cauliflower fillings which you get in most towns. This new age paratha comes with fillings that run from karela (bitter gourd) to okra to bananas. I wouldn’t have guessed that some of it is edible, but they were a pleasant surprise. It is definitely worth trying out, especially if you have been eating the old parathas all your life.
Another old eatery in the same general area is the jalebiwallah near the Chandni Chowk post office. This claims to have been in this place since the mid 19th century. It has no lack of clientele. I was in a queue behind a couple of other tourists, who seemed to be Tamilians. While tourists try to make up their minds in the slow queue, the regulars get quicker service on the side. This is a standing only place. The Tamils took their jalebis and rabri off to a parked car. I had my jalebi standing at the corner. There is a drum nearby where you throw the paper plate, and a little tap next to it where you can wash your hands. I loved fact that the food came with this convenience.
When it comes to food, the Delhiwala is not insular; he will try out imports. Momos became popular in the 90s. Now, the Natural Ice Cream chain from Mumbai has made an entry into the posh outer circle of Connaught Place. I’ve never seen a Natural Ice Cream store in Mumbai which is half as big. This one sprawls across two floors, and seems to be perpetually crowded. I tried my favourite classic flavours: a scoop of fig and another of musk melon. They seemed to be the same as the Mumbai version. The first Naturals was the tiny hole in the wall in Juhu which started in 1984 and still does business. The franchises in Delhi started only in this decade.
Amazing that you can eat your way through more than a century of food styles in one evening in Delhi.