Best snacks from around India to enjoy during the rains

Jun 23, 2013, 09:25 IST | Moeena Halim

During the four monsoon months of the year, come drizzle or downpour, there's only one thing that can keep us sane � piping hot comfort food and snacks. The rain water might refuse to recede in your neighbourhood, but there's nothing that a plate of awesome snack can't cure. Deep fried, pickled, sundried or steamed, Moeena Halim discovers hatke monsoon specials from across India

“NOW you’ve got my mouth watering,” complains Alpana Savarna, when we ask her about her favourite monsoon snack. It may not be raining in Morocco, where the management student is currently living, but just the thought of a monsoon snack has got her dreaming of the piping hot Goli Baje from her days in the university town of Manipal, Karnataka.

Friends enjoying a piping hot corn at the Bandra Bandstand. Pic/Shadab Khan

Let it fry
“It’s a small deep fried ball of lightly seasoned maida and yoghurt batter. Some might say it has no taste, although it is rich in texture — crispy fried on the outside and soft, light and elastic on the inside,” describes Savarna, who spent seven years studying and working in Karnataka before she moved overseas. Originally from Bihar, she had never heard of the Manglorean snack before her first year at college in Manipal. The street snack follows the north Indian pakora closely when she thinks of monsoon foods.

Deep fried perhaps best describes a monsoon craving for comfort food. Referring to the Bengali version of what we in Mumbai know as the humble bhajiya, restaurateur Anjan Chatterjee rattles off the various versions of the eastern state’s quintessential rain food — the Teley Bhaja. “Literally meaning fried in oil, it could include beguni (aubergine), pyaji (onion), alu (potato) and even fried papad. Teley Bhaja is probably what I miss the most among the street food of Kolkata. The bhajiyas you get in Mumbai are completely different. The Teley Bhaja batter includes a special Bengali masala and red chilli powder and is much spicier,” says the founder and managing director of Speciality Restaurants.

The capital has its version of deep fried goodness too, chips in Delhi-resident Maidni Phul. “It’s called the Ram Laddoo,” says the 27-year-old lawyer. “And during the monsoon, the street thelas (stalls) in the capital city are thronged by foodies relishing the savoury lentil laddoos typically served with mint chutney and
grated radish.”

As long as it’s hot
But not all comfort food needs to be dunked deep in a kadhai-full of oil, adds Chatterjee. If the Keralites have Kanji (a steaming bowl of rice soup), the Bengalis have the Bhuni Khichuri as their monsoon staple. “It is a combination of roasted moong dal and an equal quantity of rice along with some vegetables. My wife Suchhanda and I spent last weekend with some friends in Lonavala. The khichuri she served was so delicious that no one touched anything else,” says Chatterjee with a laugh.

Pickled to perfection
The monsoon, claims the restaurateur, is the best time to eat Bengal’s favourite river fish – the hilsa. But the Goans, equally fond of their seafood, aren’t as lucky. With fishermen stranded on shore all through the monsoon, fresh fish is hard to come by along the coast. This is why summer, explains Wilma Gomes, is spent pickling seafood, saving it quite literally for a rainy day. Born in Goa, the Wadala-resident moved to Mumbai after she got married. “When I think of the monsoon of my childhood, it’s the pickles we ate with our staple rice and curry that I think of the most,”
she says.

Apart from the better known Prawn Balchao, Gomes also talks of Para. “Bangda (mackerel) is washed in special Goan vinegar and left to dry in the sun. Once it is dried, the fish is smeared with red masala and salt and stored in an airtight container. The vinegar, made with toddy (coconut wine), is difficult to find here. So instead of attempting to make my own Para, I buy lots of it when we visit Goa and make sure we have enough to last us through the monsoon,” says the homemaker.

Gujarati Patra
Recipe by Smita Bhimjiani, homemaker

* 6 patra leaves
* Chickpea flour
* Red chilli powder
* Turmeric
* Dhana-jeeru (the Gujarati mix of cumin and coriander powder)
* Jaggery finely sliced
* Tamarind
* Salt to taste
* For tadka and garnish
* Finely chopped coriander
* Grated coconut
* Sesame seeds
* Mustard seeds
* Cumin seeds
* Wash and devein the patra using a knife
* Mix tamarind with a little water to make a paste and set aside
* Add the dry spices —red chilli powder, dhana-jeeru, turmeric -- in the chickpea flour. Then add tamarind paste and jaggery. Ensure that the paste remains thick
* Apply paste carefully on each leaf, placing one on top of the other and rolling them tight like a springroll
* Steam the rolls for about 15-20 minutes. Test them with a knife, they should not be soggy
* Slice the rolls and prepare the tempering
* Heat oil in a pan. Sauté mustard, cumin and sesame seeds. Fry the slices in the tadka for about five minutes
* Garnish with coriander and coconut

Bengali Bhuni Khichuri (for four persons)
Recipe by Suchhanda Chatterjee, Director, Design and Interiors, SpecialIty Restaurants
* 1 cup mustard oil
* 2 big tejpatta (bay leaves)
* 2 pcs each cinnamon & cardamom
* 4 tbsp of cumin powder
* 1 tbsp turmeric powder
* 1 tbsp red chilli powder
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 2 tbsp ginger paste
* 1 tbsp garam masala powder
* 1 tbsp green chilli paste
* Salt to taste
* 1 big tomato (chopped)
* 8 pcs of cauliflower (cut)
* 4 pcs of potato (cut)
* Handful green peas
* 2 ½ cups Moong dal (yellow)
* Ghee 6 tbsp

* Dry roast the Dal in a pan till golden brown
* Fry the Rice with 2 tbsp oil for 2 minutes
* Fry the Vegetables (cauliflower/ potato and green peas) in oil till light brown with salt
* Put ghee in a kadai and add tejpatta/cardamom/cinnamon fry for 30 seconds then add cumin powder/turmeric/red chilli powder and fry for 1 minute add tomato and ginger paste and fry till all mixes well
* Add the vegetables stir well and add the rice and dal, stir it for 30 seconds add 2 cups of hot water and salt. Cook it on slow fire for 20 minutes
* For garnish add ghee and garam masala powder
* Serve Hot!  

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