When I go to India I tell my relatives that I am there to first, eat the street foods and second, to visit them. As far as I can tell – they seem to understand. Any one of them can go down the road any day of the week, and eat Gol Gappas (puffed, hollow dough balls filled with potatoes, tamarind chutney and spicy cumin water) and have Aloo Tikkis (potato croquettes) or Bhel Puri(too hard to put into words) without giving it much thought.
I live in New York City and that is not something that I can do. When I do find someone who makes one of the above mentioned treats – they are usually not up to par. I am better off not partaking the sub par offerings of many restaurants that attempt to make a Bhel Puri or a good Aloo Tikki. Its so much better for me to hold on to my childhood taste memories in my mind.
My lament for the perfect chaat continues. I yearn for those tastes of my childhood. I am salivating just as I write this.
I decided to teach a class where I would teach students how to make a few treasured tastes of my childhood.
I made sure that I told them that in no way will the things we make at the class come close to what the guy on the streets of Delhi or Bombay sells. But the satisfaction of preparing the stuff on our own will count for something. I also guaranteed them that all that we prepare will be far superior to most of the things served in Indian restaurants that I frequent in New York City.
I was mostly right.
We made Kati rolls (think Indian burritos – of sort), Gol Gappas, Aloo Tikki with Cilantro, Green Chili Chutney and Bhel Puri. It was all so good – and the students loved everything.
None of them had been to India, but had Indian friends who talked about the famous Bhel Puri wallah or the Tikki – guy at the corner of the street they grew up.
I told them stories of my childhood. Like, I believe that the guy making the gol gappas adds to the flavor of the pani when he dips his hand in the giant ghada (earthenware pot) to fill the gol gappa before he hands it to you. There was a Sindhi Chaat Corner in my neighborhood where I grew up in Delhi. Going there for any one of his delectable offerings like Aloo Tikki or Gappas was the highlight of my week.
When I went to India a couple of years ago – the jeera pani was made with Bisleri (bottled) water and the guy wore a glove. I tell you – something was missing.
I hope I encouraged half of my students to go to India some day and not be afraid of the street foods. The other half who will not go to India will probably attempt to make something like the Kati Rolls for lunch and think about the crazy lady whose childhood circled around when she was going to eat next.
What are your childhood memories that revolve around food? Did you eat any forbidden foods that got you in trouble because you didn’t have enough room for dinner? Like I did?
What street foods do you love today and what do you stay away from?
Until I eat again!