Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sivaji's South

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink” or “He who eats alone, chokes alone”

‘Anonymous’ is credited with the above and I can tell you he/she must have been a prolific writer if you think of how many quotes, comments, and musings are credited to him/her J. As with most others this quote has hit the nail on the head. If you think on it I am sure you will agree that the best meals usually include excellent company as an essential ingredient.

Rocky and I are thus ahead of the game in that on the show (and often at home over the past 32 years) we always have each other to share food, opinions, jokes and sometimes good-natured jibes. Each meal together is a true ‘experience’ and our joy has doubled nay quadrupled with the discovery that the world of food breeds some very interesting ‘characters’ and no I am no talking about normal, sane people like Rocky and I J

This blog is a little muse on people we met, conversations we had and things we learnt (e.g. the energetic Prem Koshy of Bangalore’s landmark restaurant Koshy’s invented a fabulous soup after his son put salt in coconut juice by mistake.) and most of all the memories we carried away. I can still close my eyes and remember the warmth and love with which Bhattji fed us his famous ‘ghee dosa’ and the ebullient Mister Tony of ‘Tony da Dhaba’ fame who served up as many expletives in his conversation as he did different types of birds(9) or ‘rotis’ in his dhaba.

What is it about food that brings out the real flavour in people closely involved with it whether they are focused on production or consumption? Passion I can understand but what is it that makes them tick a little beat off the tune and look for that perfect taste or special experience. What makes a ‘normal’ medium sized man in Mysore challenge someone with my gargantuan appetite to a Kesari Bhath eating contest. I mean I had wolfed down 5 helpings while he was patiently nipping away at his first piece but he wanted to take on Rocky next. What about the heavily bearded restaurateur and exotic dog collector at the ‘Zamindara Dhaba’ who graciously serves unlimited quantities of free ‘chaach’ or buttermilk because he feels that as a Zamindar/landlord it is his duty and his pride? Or back again to Tony who has an enclosure with Emus (the slightly smaller cousin of the Ostrich) on his premises. There is emu meat on his menu but that is ordered and arrives from a thousand kilometers away because he does not have the heart to condemn his ‘Emu pets’ (as he called them) to the diner’s table.

Life is a stage and ‘foodies’ for some reason are always the character actors. Remember Maharaj Pushpraj Singh of Rewa in Madhya Pradesh? A true foodie also a performer par excellence who effortlessly took over the whole sequence we shot with him and shared his recipes with many a funny aside including digs at me for being a ‘poor vegetarian’.

Prem Koshy of Koshy’s deserves another mention not just for his vast (more than 300 recipes and counting) and varied menu but also for his unstinting efforts in the area of conservation. He has a court order protecting a giant tree near his restaurant and hands out packets of seeds to any interested customers so they can plant more trees. A lovely poster of Owl species that need this species of tree to nest in and survive often accompanies the packet. At Koshy’s we also met a couple of chaps who have passionately written a book about ants and spent half an hour talking about them while Rocky listened patiently (and ate steadily J)

How can we forget the famous Mattha Pandey aka Ram Avatar who ran away from home when he was 11 and arrived in Kanpur to much later set up a famous roadside shop and brand called ‘Thaggu Ke Laddu’. This ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi decided to be true to his customers and tell them straight up that he was robbing/thugging them of their health by feeding them laddus which had sugar that Gandhiji had termed as ‘white poison’. Thus was born the famous by-line, which loosely translated means “There is no relative left that we have not cheated.” That’s not just it though as this interesting old man also makes and sells fabulous ‘Badnaam Kulfi” which he named because he said anything found or sold on the street is ‘badnaam’ (of questionable character). Other interesting food he has experimented with and sold in the past are the ‘Communist Puri’ and ‘Apradhi Atta’ (The Criminal Dough). The dodgy names notwithstanding everything we ate (and yes we did eat everything J) here was of the highest quality and very tasty to boot.

Pervez Irani at the Kayani Bakery in Pune who make the famous ‘Shrewsbury Butter Cookies’ had a simple answer when we asked him what made his cookies so tasty. He smiled with a twinkle in his eye and said with a chilike glee “lots and lots of maska” (that’s’ ‘butter’ for those of you who like me thought maska/flattery is what you needed to get and extra share of biscuits). What I loved was that during the grand tour of the bakery Pervez enjoyed sharing titbits (not just of the cookies ;) like the fact that the bakery was earlier an Italian dance hall and that the original Italian marble counter is still in use.

I could go on and on because hey that is what I do but hey this is the start and many a blog will follow. Before I wrap up I would like to also mention the 4 brothers that run the Ayodhya Restaurant in Mangalore and serve around 12-15 different traditional dishes on their menu. On asking how they had such a wide variety of dishes they replied that this was their contribution to keeping alive traditional cuisine which young people living away from home (and granny) would not get to taste otherwise.

This is just a start and I am sure our adventures will bring us across many such colourful characters with different motives and inspiration but with the same final conclusion….another yummy meal on Highway On My Plate.

All said and done it’s finally about the food so tuck in and enjoy. For Rocky and Mayur its all about work but food is the focus so we never work before breakfast but if we have to work before breakfast then we eat our breakfast first……..go figure and keep watching.

Oh in case you’re wondering about the title its because I watched Rajnikanth’s movie ‘Sivaji’ and the man in question is truly a ‘character’ who had me enthralled by his unique style of eating chewing gum on the rebound from his hand. Many hours of practice later I still haven’t got it J

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