June 27, 2012

Highway Food


I like traveling a lot, and luckily I have traveled a lot since childhood, whether be it by plane, train or road. Road travel is quite exciting in many ways, as in you get to see many many things, you can experience different scenery, culture and food all in one go. Infact food during roadside travel is just amazing sometimes. My Mom always made puris and dry aloo-matar sabji for the journey, so one meal of our journey was almost always that. I absolutely love puri and aloo matar and its another feeling to have it while on the move. Rest we looked for the options on the highway - dhabas, restaurants, resorts or hotels which can yield really awesome or really horrible food.

One of the most amazing, delicious, lip-smacking dishes I ever ate was missi-roti and masoor dal with ghee on a road trip from Delhi to Aligarh. We had stopped at a dhaba in UP. It was a neat dhaba with a lawn of green grass and tables on it and fencing of sarkande painted yellow and red. They didn’t have a big menu though as they cooked what was grown in their house. So we ordered missi roti and dal and some papad. I don’t know how many people feel this, but sitting in car whole day makes you pretty sluggish, so if you are traveling, I doubt if you would like to go for something heavy. So, anyways, with the limited menu that was the most attractive option. The platter came with missi roti covered with home-made ghee, masoor dal and onions. It was absolutely divine! Till date I look for the same taste but have never eaten such heavenly missi roti and masoor dal again. So simple but so gooooooood! :)

Another time, we had a stop at Kolhapur and had stayed there for a day. So, in total we had 2 meals there, one was pav bhaji and second was some chicken dish with rotis. Both meals were very spicy, and I guess we kinda learnt that day that why kolhapuri cuisine is considered spicy. It was great, spicy but tasty! There was this other time when we stopped at a hotel in Gujarat for a night-stay. For some reason, I had a huge craving for Chinese that day, and they had some Chinese dishes on the menu. Thinking that Gujarati cuisine is largely sweet and spicy, I ordered schezwan noodles, just so that I don’t get anything sweet to eat. But, I was in for a shock, the noodles were so spicy that I could not eat more than 2 spoons. Infact I had to drink almost 2 litres of water to go with those 2 spoons :) I have stayed in Baroda also once during a road trip, but I ordered normal Indian food there with some curd. I had heard the Baroda dairy is quite good and the curd there was really good – thick and creamy. Food was average. Twice, we had food in the outskirts of Surat. One of the places was a resort of sorts, I even spotted a TV actor there. We ordered normal stuff like dal, roti, sabji, rice and even gujarati kadi. It was ok-ok but the quantity was quite less. The other place we stopped at was a restaurant but we stopped there for breakfast so we tried the famous gujarati methi thepelas. The portion size was really small. It came with just one thepela which was quite thin and had a diameter of only 3 inches. So it was really a rip-off! You can read more about my Gujarat trip here.

During my road-trips, I have often seen that the really tasty food can actually be found in small dhabas in small villages or towns. Somehow those near the cities never carry any good fare. These small dhaba-owners on the other hand will have a very limited menu but will be really good. They would pick the vegetables right from their garden/field in front of you or cook the poultry they have using limited spices but the food will be fresh and lip-smacking delicious. I remember this dhaba in Jawra, MP, which was really small. Made of mud and thatched roof, it nestled in a dry terrain, with only the dhaba-owners’ field around it. It had charpais with metal tables for dining. He had a traditional chulha for cooking and he made food just for your order. It was really good, he kept limited items sourced from his field but the cooked food used to be so tasty. Recently, I had a very simple meal at a small restaurant in Neemuch, MP. This restaurant is on the highway and again they have a very limited menu. They just take what’s available in their fields and cook it. The day we went, they just had alu-matar ki rasewali sabji, chappati, rice and dal-baati on menu. We were famished as we hadn’t been able to locate a food-joint before and went for it. We ordered the alu-matar and chappatis. The sabji was so light, hardly had any spices. Only, salt, a dash of lime and little mirchi. It was light and fresh and simply superb!

Apart from the restaurants or dhabas, one also comes across nice agricultural produce in some areas. Like, some places in Karnataka, you can find these farmers selling tokris of cucumber. Big, fat, juicy cucumbers straight out of the field. In Tamil Nadu, you can come across farmers selling bananas of 2 types – the really small bananas, which are sweet and sour or huge bananas, the regular banana that you get in market – only bigger and fatter and better! In some spots in Gujarat, you can find them selling peanuts and in Maharashtra – you can find fruits near Rahuri due to the agricultural university there; or you can stop at Malegaon and get a good deal on ber and anar that are locally produced there. If you travel to Haridwar or Roorkie this time of the year, then you can find these colourful thellas decorated with cucumbers, peaches and plums.

Food on a road journey is quite an experience; you can see how the same flavours are mixed in a different way in different regions. A simple yet delicious meals add to a road journey and makes it more memorable.

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