Friday, June 27, 2008
Appa is a word for father in many Indian languages. But for a true Punekar, there is only one ‘Appa’ and he owns the canteen that is part of the Deccan Gymnkhana, nestled snugly in a tiny lane between the cricket ground and the tennis courts, at the Eastern end of the long billiards hall. Appa’s canteen needs no introduction as it has been in the same spot since days of the Raj. A humble place made up of one small room divided into two tiny sections, the dining area and the kitchen. There is usually a machine making some sort of batter in the door between the kitchen and dining area. The dining area seats 8 people at a time. As a result most of Appa’s goodies are consumed out on the street on the back seat of a scooter or car. Appa’s canteen boasts a minimal menu of 3-4 dishes a day and menu items are set by the day of the week. Only a true Puneri can recite the menu by what day it is. If it’s Sunday, this must be idli-sambar. Some of the most famous items on this menu are idli sambar, kanda poha and khichadi kakadi. Appa, a man with a cheery disposition and skin darkened by years under the Indian sun always greets his customers with a smile and is on a first name basis with almost everyone who visits. His pajamas and ‘bandi’ which once used to be white are a trademark as is his checkered shirt which usually hangs on a ‘khunti’ on the wall. His generously proportioned son, Shree, now manages the 6’ X 6’ kitchen where 3 other cooks manage not only to stand with him, but cook delicious meals as well. Shree’s rusty old Java motorcycle is another permanent fixture right front of the door of the canteen occupying just as much space as him. One may notice soaked Sabudana being aired in the sun on the seat of the Java. Appa’s canteen has stood the test of time as well as the great flood of Pune in 1962. One of the most charming aspects of Appa’s canteen is the rusty Coca-Cola sign that remained there through the flood, and even after coke was asked to leave India. I visited Appa a few months back on my trip to Pune and the Coke sign was still standing strong. As humble as this little canteen is, it boasts some of India’s most famous sons as its patrons including Sunil Gavaskar and Raja Paranjpe. In the ever changing landscape of Pune, there a are few things that have stayed the same since the time of my grandfather. Appa’s canteen has been one of them. And all three living generations of my family will swear by one dish—Appa’s Khichadi Kakadi.
More about Appa.
1/3 cup Ghee
2 cups Sabudana / Sagoo (unsoaked)
4-5 Chillies (chopped)
3/4 cup roasted Peanut
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
Cilantro / Coriander chopped
1 medium sized Potato (peeled and chopped)
I tsp Sugar
Salt to taste
Ingredients for Cucumber Raita
1 cup Yogurt
1 large Cucumber (peeled and chopped)
1/2 cup ground roasted Peanut
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
Pinch of Asafoetida
2 tbsp Oil
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste.
Soak Sabudana overnight* and make sure it is soft to the centre.
In a deep pot heat the ghee on medium heat and add the chillies and cumin powder.
Add potatoes and stir till they look cooked.
Add soaked sabudana, peanuts, cilantro, sugar and salt.
Fold the ingredients together so it is completely mixed.
Put a lit on it and let it cook in the steam.
When the sabudana is hot, Khichadi is done.
In a bowl, mix cucumber, peanuts, yogurt sugar and salt.
In a small pan heat oil and ass Asafoetida, mustard seeds and cumin.
Remove from heat when the mustard seeds begin to pop.
Pour this mixture over the cucumber and mix well.
Serve hot Khichadi with Raita or Plain Yogurt.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
On returning to New York as a married couple, our ‘gruha pravesh’ involved pushing huge suitcases packed to the maximum allowable baggage allowance across the threshold. The only way a true desi travels and something I just can’t explain to my wife. I’m still on a high from all the pampering a prodigal son gets on his brief, infrequent visits home. The trick however is the leave before the novelty wears off. Now back in my apartment, as I was having my Sunday morning chai, I looked at my Nice biscuits (my favourite biscuits), which has turned limp from moisture as they were pretty old. Quite a contrast to the Sunday mornings back home.
When I lived in Pune, the family of one of the boys that worked for us lived in Tulsibaug. Although he lived with us all week, he would visit his family every weekend, leaving on Friday evening and returning early morning on Sunday. One of his most important duties (at least according to me) was to go to Hindustan Bakery on the way back and pick up a Kg of Khari, cream rolls and the legendary Hindustan Pav, all while they were still hot. He’d be home with the goodies, just in time for Sunday morning tea with a crisp copies of Times of India, Sunday edition and of course, Sakal.
If any one from Pune doesn’t know Hindustan Bakery (which would be quite sad), it’s the bakery that provided all the other bakeries in Pune with that ambiguous, yet delicious bread wrapped in unbranded brown paper and white thread. It was in essence a loaf of sourdough bread, neatly sliced and best if consumed with Mutton Rassa. This bread remained unbranded in brown paper for the better part of my life till others started passing their inferior bread as Hindustan bread. When they did start branding it, it was just a red, illegible, rubber stamp on the brown paper. Don’t you just love the Puneri arrogance and indifference? The original Hindustan Bakery located on Laxmi Road had some of the best bakery items that Puneites still swear by. Veg pattice, Khari (also pilachi khari), the strangely delicious bite sized cream rolls and of course the loaf of bread.
Khari and chai was a perfect start to most weekend mornings back home, but once I came to New York, it all but disappeared except for that sad excuse for Khari that Haldiram sells through Indian stores here. That was till discovered one of America’s greatest packaged inventions. Pepperidge Farms® Pastry Puff. And as much disdain I have for anything Pepperidge Farm, these artery clogging sheets of goodness have brought back the Khari back into my Sunday mornings. And of course giving my gori wife yet another reason the shake her head in disbelief.
1 sheet of Pepperidge Farms® Pastry Puff
Fold sheet in half making it double layered
Cut into 3” X 1” rectangular blocks
Pre-heat the oven and using good judgment, bake the bad boys as directed on the box till crisp and golden
Allow to cool and serve with hot Chai.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
So my girlfriend and I finally tied the knot with a small ceremony in Pune last week and flew straight to Jaipur for our honeymoon. My wife wanted to live in a small place with lots of character so anything with the name Taj, Oberoi or Sheraton was out. We found this small hotel, Hotel Palms that must’ve been someone’s residence at one point. It was one of those hotels where the owners lost interest in running it just as soon as they acquired it, giving it the right amount of character and ample scope for comic relief that we were looking for. It came with notable amenities such as mosquitoes, an internet café that was open only between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., a utilities shop that never opened the entire time that I was there and more staff than there were rooms none of whom were of any real help. On my first morning there, I woke up and ordered some tea. The tea came in a stained thermos with a jar of sugar cubes. The jar of sugar cubes had ants crawling all over the sugar. When I pointed this out to the barefoot waiter, he simply demonstrated the best way to get rid of the ants. Picking up the sugar cube, blowing on it and then directly tossing the cube in the tea. At this point I was looking more like the NRI arse hole who couldn’t deal with some ants than someone who wanted good service. My favourite part of the hotel, not surprisingly, was the restaurant. The Olives restaurant as it was called boasted an Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese, Italian and Continental menu. Pretty impressive I thought and then I was disillusioned by the pizza I ordered. It was made from readymade pizza base, Kissan sauce and Amul cheese product. There also was some dried fruit and nuts in the toppings. I have always been enamoured by the ability of Indians to take any dish and Indianize it instantly. My wife decided to go for the walnut and banana pancakes. I knew in the back of my mind that it was a bad idea, but I somehow wanted to see what came out of the kitchen. As I saw the waiter walking with our order towards us, I noticed that there wasn’t anything even slightly resembling a pancake on his tray. As he finally placed the ‘pancake’ on our table my American wife gave me a look that would make most Indians respond with the “hey, this is India” look. The pancake was a crepe made out of chapatti flour drowned in honey. The ‘pancake’ in spite of not being one, was extremely delicious and probably one of the healthiest versions of a crepe she had ever eaten. So in honour of my Rajasthani friends, here’s a recipe for the pancake/crepe that left my wife smiling for more reasons than one.
Some other menu translations at Hotel Palms
Hash browns or Home Fries = Potato subji.
Pizza = Bread base, topped with lots of stuff including nuts and dried fruits, Kissan ketchup and Amul Cheese.
Thai Spring Roll = Maggi Noodles in a spring roll
Mexican rice and beans = Rajma and Basmati rice
1 cup Chapati flour (Durum Wheat Flour)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter (optional)
2 cups cut up Fruit
In a big bowl add the water, milk, salt and flour and whisk till it is completely mixed
Then add the eggs and whisk till it becomes a homogenous mixture.
Melt butter and mix it to the batter
On a non-stick skillet pout half cup of the batter
Turn the skillet to make spread it around and make a thin crepe
Place 2-3 tsp cut up fruit at the centre of the crepe and then fold the crepe over
Drizzle honey or powdered sugar over the crepe
Garnish with some more fruit and serve