Snacks and the city
Bombay’s winter is like the guy you keep running into who looks intently into your eyes and says you really must get together. He sends frequent SMSs reiterating this desire and implying the intention, but never actually makes the date. Every now and then the newspapers excitedly utter — “mercury to dip in the coming days.” But despite a nip here and a dip there, and semi-Page 3 types flashing their ridiculous boots, we have to admit, Bombay and winter are more about the intention than the connection.
For a committed encounter, you really have to head up north, where the winter allows you to be slower and fuller. Temptations roll out of the fog, picked out by the slow moving finger of the winter sun, which is lazy about waking up nowadays.
You cannot walk down a Delhi street now and not be drawn to the deep warm colours of winter foods softly smudged by coal smoke. There are carts heaped with peanuts roasted in the shell, corn freshly popping in an iron kadhai and oranges more pillowy than PC’s lips. There are stands piled with gauzy gajak and rewri, nutty with sesame, bright ochre gur ki ladiyan and garlands of dense maroon dried figs.
Although it’s rare now, you can still sometimes spy matkis of kanji — a drink made by fermenting purple carrots with mustard that will stain your hands, sing in your nose and clear your sinuses.
Winter craves guilty pleasures. Like aloo chaat — cubed potatoes fried to golden-brown crispness, slathered in a sour-spicy masala; moong dal pakodis covered with lavish white shavings of radish with bits of green chilli, mint and coriander, a patta of which will take you happy to the end of the road; or channas dark brown with garam masala, served up from a gleaming brass vessel, eaten with pickled chillis and carrots.
In this relationship you abandon all restraint, so you naturally go to Old Delhi, home of all things kachori. My cousin and I once spent a morning eating there.
We started with samosas stuffed with whole green peas, then voluptuous jalebis, then a famous lassi, then parathas stuffed with nimbu ka achar and finally kababs. By then we were feeling kind of sick, but hadn’t even covered three lanes! We had no one but ourselves to blame for the horrible Delhi Belly that followed, but as my cousin asked between loo visits — “why is it I would do it again?” That’s love, baby.
My favourite Delhi street snack is shakarkandi — sweet potatoes roasted on coal, sliced into little diagonal pieces, smothered with chaat masala and lots of lemon. I often yearn for it in Bombay, so I thought I was dreaming awake when I saw a sweet potato thela in the middle of Bandra the other day.
I was nonplussed rather than excited to see it. It belongs to a place where it’s okay to while time away, where pavements are for dawdling, letting one layer of flavour slowly follow another in your mouth. What was it doing here in racy Bombay?
Bombay snacks aren’t about this sensual unfurling, this circadian cycle in a snack. Snacks in our city are quick and on-the-go like vada pav. They are all the sins and temptations, spicy, sour, greasy, simultaneously, hectically available, rolled up matter-of-factly in a frankie, tossed up casually in a bhel, defying time and mortality in their year-round unchangingness.
I never stopped to eat that sweet potato. I was late for something and didn’t really have time for a season to change.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.