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The long way ahead for Street Food Vendors -Post Lockdown

In the wake of the current pandemic followed by the prolonged lockdown in the country, it is the country’s informal workforce that has been badly hit. The loss of livelihood and dwindling resources have left them in great distress. A notable chunk of this unfortunate category includes the street food vendors who are our prime stakeholders.

Apart from the suspension of work due to the deepening Covid-19 situation in India, the most worrying part of this crisis is that nobody can predict their comeback which seems to be long and arduous. We are deeply anxious as to what challenges will come their way once the grip of the pandemic loosens and things start getting back to normalcy. Also what kind of skill sets they would need to imbibe to win back the confidence of the consumers is what needs to be pondered about. These were the few questions that have been bothering us for a while and we are trying to get answers for it. 

Having spoken to a couple of the vendors like the one who sells parathe and the daulat ki chaat wala with whom we have been working closely, we realized how grim and uncertain their situation is.

To get some clarity about this distressing situation and the way ahead, where a huge chunk of the street food vendors all across the country are staring at an abyss of loss of livelihoods. and the way ahead, we spoke spoke to Ms. Sangeeta Singh who is the Head of Programs at NASVI. It is an organization working for the protection of the livelihood rights of thousands of street vendors across the country. Their scope of work also covers the street food vendors. 

Currently everyone is talking about the fate of the restaurant and hotel industries in the wake of the pandemic. But no voices have been heard about the plight and rehabilitation of the street food vendors. So what would be the status of the street food vendors once the crisis recedes. 

Sangeeta agreed that in Delhi itself many issues pertaining to the street food vendors have come to the forefront which they are trying to find solutions to. She is of the opinion that it is impossible to talk about the food of a place without mentioning the street food vendors. When we talk about food, culture, and tourism we should understand and acknowledge the fact that it’s the street food vendors who represent our food cultures to the world. Moreover when you go to any corner of India and yearn for the real food over there then you often approach a street food vendor.  

NASVI has been working with street vendors on different aspects. Since it is a livelihood advocacy organization, the major volume of their work is directed towards improving their livelihood. They train them on hygiene issues as the sale of hygienic food naturally boosts their income. Till now they have trained vendors from 19 to 20 states. She informed us that in their training itself the livelihood component is attached.

Due to the Covid crisis, we all are distressed but the section that is most affected is the informal workforce especially the own who are self employed there trouble is more and the plight of the food vendors is more than others and we are working on that. 

Speaking about the measures that they have undertaken during this pandemic, Sangeeta told us about the letters they have written to the PMO and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs mentioning that they should rope in the food vendors to distribute food arranged by the government to the needy. They know their respective localities so well hence they could have used that channel but that did not happen. 

As per an advisory general street vendors can resume work after sometime but not the street food vendors. They cited the issue of crowds.The government should think about what they will do for livelihood. They lack the capital to start something new and their savings would be exhausted soon. NASVI is working on ways to support them but they can’t fix things alone. They have distributed ration to 1500-1600 people from their own end but unless their livelihood is revived it really won’t make much difference to their ordeal. 

Currently they are thinking about an app through which vendors can directly stay connected to the customers. The food vendors are on tenterhooks whether they can put up their stalls soon after this. Sangeeta said that the coming three months of transition is going to be a phase full of confusion both for the vendors and consumers. She and few leaders from her field  have undergone training on Covid precautions. But what she really fears the most is that if e-commerce things pick up fast in the favour of the restaurants then the vendors might go into oblivion. Hence they are trying to find ways to implement home deliveries for the street food vendors and to train them. They would also be sensitizing the customers about their role and support. She further added that in the face of crisis we can’t dismiss them and leave them to their fate saying that we are afraid to have the food that they serve.  

Sangeeta rued the fact that there aren’t any credible bodies like the one working for the restaurants named National Restaurant Association of India. Their organization works for all vendors but has a specific team who works for street food advocacy. Recently we stood for the vendors in Mumbai. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) partners with them to conduct training programs for vendors.

So what all steps need to be undertaken for their survival? What are the alternative livelihood options and what will happen to their skill sets? These are some burning questions bothering the fraternity. 

 Sangeeta opines that the global change is going to affect them badly and we have to again work on their revival. Vendors are realizing the importance of hygiene. Hence they will have to adopt measures to ensure that the food they serve has to be hygienic otherwise people are going to reject it. We citizens along with have to create a positive ecosystem and have to show generosity to save the spine of the food culture. We have to educate vendors and give them proper training. Their unit is small and hence it is not hard for them to emulate the healthy practices.

We customers have to order things maintaining a distance. As far as the payment mechanism is concerned, digital things have been there for the past 3-4 years and have to be made more vigorous. Sangeeta believes that till date it was luxury but now it won’t work like that. Even the vendors won’t be able to take currency notes as they are vulnerable as well. If consumers are at risk, then the vendors too are at risk. So many things need to change. Currently the vendors have to display the guidelines from NASVI on their cart. Now they will be given Covid specific pointers that will be added to the current training module. 

 

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PLACES TO EAT AT IN CENTRAL KOLKATA

The central part of Kolkata is a wide stretch that includes office areas, shopping destinations and educational hub. The office zone includes the stretch of BBD Bag. Lined with numerous government and private office buildings and shops, the area is also home to one of the most popular street food zones in the city. Hence it is thronged by a crowd that mostly composed of office goers and loyal food enthusiasts. So if you are on a food trail in the city of joy, then you shouldn’t miss out the delightful treats available here. Along with our gracious host Pamela Das, we strolled down these vibrant lanes exploring the wide range of street food and the heritage. After exploring the street food scenario across the commercial and administrative hub in Central Kolkata, we went across to the shopping hub in this zone to explore some of the popular eateries across JLNehru Road, Dharamtala and Camac street. These places attract a motley crowd from the city and beyond. Below is the list of eateries that we visited in this tour.

 

ARUN TEA STALL: Since there were a lot of iconic places to be explored in the area, we started our food tour quite early in the morning with a refreshing cup of tea along with some club kachori and sabzi. The saffron flavoured tea, a specialty of this place, was by far the best tea that we had in Kolkata. People who love spicy flavours would love the combination of club kachori and potato sabzi. It was great speaking to the genial Arun bhai about the origin and evolution of the place.

CHITTO BABUR DOKAN: From there we took a taxi ride to Dacres Lane, an iconic spot that is locally known as Office Para. Dated back to the time of the British Rule, it is one of the oldest surviving street food centers in the city. On reaching there we were greeted by a lane full of eateries some of which were quite old. We made our way through the staggering variety of food all over to reach the iconic Chitto Babur Dokan, a shop whose name is synonymous with the locality itself. The eatery focuses on light and hearty veg and non veg dishes that caters to the hunger of the office goers coming to this area. We tried their two bestselling offerings. First was light and hearty chicken stew and toasted bread and second was a humble khichuri platter. The mild flavours of the European stew and the Bengali khichuri have rendered them a hit with the customers who look for some light stuff for lunch.

 

KONA DUKAN: From there we walked towards BBD, Dalhousie and reached the busy area near the Calcutta Stock Exchange. This area is best known for great tea, sandwiches, toasts etc. No wonder during lunch break or any possible break, people come together to discuss the day with each other. There isn’t a more rewarding sight than watching people bond over food in a zone where it’s all about business and commerce. Here we tried a luscious malai toast from the ever busy Kona Dukan. Those who have tried the combination will know it’s enchanting taste. And the best part of the experience was we discovered that a little sprinkle of salt and pepper just elevated it to the next level.

 

 

BHOLA SANDWICH: Next we tried a comforting cheese corn toast from Bhola Sandwich. Fresh white bread slices joined by a creamy stuffing and then grilled to perfection made for a quick and happy snack.

KULFIWALA: The Kulfi Wala in front of the stock exchange sells a luscious range of natural fruit kulfis. Our pick was the orange kulfi that was quite refreshing. It comprised of a whole scooped out orange stuffed with real orange pulp and reduced milk mixture.

ANADI CABIN: Next destination was Anadi Cabin, a 02 year old eatery on JL Nehru road whose Mughlai Porota is a hot selling snack. The busy interior and the fascinating account of the owner was a clear testimony of its towering reputation when it comes to this particular snack. Mughlai Porota is a thick, crisp,flaky and truly hearty mince and veggie stuffed shallow fried parantha.

NIZAM’S: From there we crossed a sea of shops selling a wide range of things starting from electronics to clothes to reach New Market. Established in 1874 this place houses one of the oldest market buildings. Another very interesting thing here is the multitude of street vendors dotting this stretch. Our destination here was the iconic Nizam’s restaurant whose Kathi Rolls are nearly 118 years strong. You have to taste them once to realise it’s deliciousness that is the result of the combination of a well cooked paratha, yummy kebab, onions and lime juice.

TAJ MAHAL PAAN SHOP: After polishing off that legendary thing we grabbed a sweet paan from Tajmahal Paan shop to cleanse our palate and prepare our tummy for more treats.

NAHOUMS: Then we checked into Hoggs Market. Among the numerous shops selling clothes, toys etc stands tall one very famous cake shop named Nahoum’s. This 118 year old Jewish bakery is an emotion for many. Their cakes, tarts, brownies, cookies attract patrons from the city and beyond. We decided to try their Christmas time favourite plum cake. A bite of the fresh, warm, dense and dry fruit rich slice of this plum cake was so blissful.

VICTORIA VADA: From there we headed to Camac street to have crisp and light Moong Dal fritters from Victoria Vada. The owner told us about his 35 year old journey of selling these mouthwatering vadas. Since he started his business from Victoria Memorial, he retained this name after shifting to Camac Street so that people will identify him as their favourite one.

MASALA BREAD WALA: Next was the turn of an innovative masala bread that was a party of flavours and texture. White bread slices topped with sweet, savoury and tangy mixture of boiled potatoes and other fun stuff was phenomenal. And more so was the love with which the person arranged it for us was so heartening.

CHANA JOR GARAM SELLERS: The last thing we tried on this food tour was a traditional snack called Channa Jor Garam. It’s a dry mix of dried flattened channa, onions, spices etc. It is a light munchie thing that keeps you happy on the go. It was fun to interact with the two guys who were dressed up traditionally and were gleefully selling their fare in a traditional basket. We truly respect their enduring spirit for standing for such a long time with such a heavy basket isn’t an easy task.

 

 

 

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SOUTH KOLKATA FOOD TOUR

During our third day in Kolkata, we were all ready to explore the popular street foods available across the lanes of South Kolkata that is an aggregation of a residential section, a famous shopping destination and a melting pot of cultures from across the country. Hence this food exploration is an eclectic combination of South Indian, Punjabi and Bengali bestsellers that the foodies-both locals and visitors, love to gorge on. To guide us with this trail we have with us our genial host for the day, Sachika Ghosh herself is a loyal visitor at many of these eateries. Having grown up eating in this area she is best aware of most of the go to dishes that are affordable and hugely popular with the crowd dotting this area.

Our food journey started from the busy Lake Market area of South Kolkata that has a substantial population from the Southern States of India. And so by default our first stop was Rao’s Udipi Home, one of the most famous South Indian restaurant in the locality that has been visited by our late President APJ Abdul Kalam. Something that started as a lodging place is now a hub for authentic Udipi cuisine that is delicious, homely and affordable. We were excited to try their most selling fare which included soft idlis, crisp deep fried vadas and an equally great Masala Dosa. Everything that we tried had a homely vibe.

After a brief stroll surveying the marketplace dominated by shops selling South Indian essentials, we took a taxi ride to reach Balwant Singh Eating House in Bhowanipore. A favourite joint for morning walkers, office goers, shoppers and general visitors, their chai is highly famed. We were here to try two of their iconic beverages-Doodh Cola and steamed tea. The first one is a refreshing concoction of milk and cola. It’s had a very unique zingy and refreshing taste. The second one was a smooth, invigorating cup of milky tea that had been prepared in a novel manner. It is one of the favourite tea destinations in the city that caters to an eclectic crowd comprising of morning walkers to students.

 

Soon it was lunch time and hunger was making us restless. Sachika suggested that we should try some favourite Punjabi fare for lunch whose taste have endeared the Bengalis too. So we headed to Jai Hind Dhaba and ordered two interesting dishes that were quite different from the Punjabi classics dominating the menu. First one was the Egg Tadka, a Punjabi variation of the Bengali Egg Torka. We loved it’s comforting notes that emanated from the whole moong dal, scrambled eggs and aromatic warming spices. The second dish was Chicken Bharta. It was creamy and flavourful. The fun part about these two dishes were the clear Bengali touch bought in by the use of some quintessential Bengali ingredients.

We then walked towards Gariahat and Deshapriya Park. The area being a famous shopping destination in the city, it attracts a lot of crowds. And where there are people there is food that is delicious, affordable and that provides a quick relief from the hunger pangs. Undoubtedly the place has a plethora of snacking options. And as usual we are in search of some of the most popular eateries over here that have been delighting the foodies for a long time. We are glad to have Sachika with us who would be walking us through the lanes and thoroughfares introducing us to eclectic street food fares in the locality.

Our first stop over here was Balaram Mullick which is one of the city’s most reputed sweet shops. The huge variety of sweets over here was a testimony to the Bengali’s never ending love for sweets. The mind blowing variety just blew our mind and taking the owners recommendations into account we settled for baked rasogolla, baked mihidana, patishapta, gurer kanchgolla, gurer rasogolla and monohara. The sweets available in Bengal during the winter months are deemed special and are much coveted. It’s because most of them are made with the winter special date palm jaggery that is prized for its uniquely pleasant taste and aroma. All the sweets mentioned above were made with this nolen gur and their taste was just phenomenal. After that sweet overdose it was time for some savoury snacks. For this we arrived at one of the two immensely popular snack shops named Maharaj and Maharani. Situated close to each other they had started out as one shop, but are now operating separately. Their menus were almost the same but according to the public each specialised in different dishes. Maharaj excelled in Hinger Kochuri and Aloor Tarkari while Maharani’s best selling dish was Shinghara.

 

 

Fish being a staple of the Bengali cuisine, it is also savoured in the form of this irresistible snack called the fish finger. Our destination for the same was Shankar’s fry. Their yummy Bhetki fritter with its crisp, grainy exterior and the soft fleshy interior was such a piece of sheer joy. The smell, the taste and the contended crowd testified why it is considered as the King of Fish Fry.

Finally it was time to end the food tour with another ubiquitous snack best loving treat called puchka. Sachika took us to her favourite vendor in this part of the city. It’s Bengali version of Pani Puri. The stuffing and the water is quite distinct from the North Indian counterpart. The puchkas were simply addictive while the churmur was such a fun treat. With this we wrapped up another gratifying eating spree in the city of joy. See you soon with many other surprises. Till then keep walking and keep exploring.

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NORTH KOLKATA CLASSICS

North Kolkata Food trail that started from Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar followed by College Street has now extended to the historic lanes of Hedua, Bidhan Sarani and Shyambazar. Apart from the exciting colonial history that these places bear in their bosom, they are also home to some of the iconic eateries whose glory continues to enthrall foodies from all walks of life.  Most of the dishes available here are quintessential to this region. And a majority of them have been tickling our taste buds since aeons. Hence as we set to embark on the gastronomic journey, were super excited to partake not just its acclaimed taste but also the stories that they entail. And to guide us in this quest of ours we are being assisted by our gracious host Pamela Das a young food enthusiast who know these areas extensively.

While passing through the footpath of the busy thoroughfare of College Street, first we halted near a vendor selling another the favourite, quintessential Bengali snacks known as Jhal Muri. A potpourri of puffed rice, potatoes, spices etc.  mustard oil this ubiquitous snacks from Bengal is a zesty, filling, economical and convenient option to the random hunger pangs. No wonder this simple eclectic dish embodies the spirit of the city that is humble, joyful, endearing and vibrant.

From there we took a tram ride to reach Bidhan Sarani. Kolkata is the only city in India that uses this mode of transportation and hence it is one of the quintessential features of the city. Our destination here was the famous sweet shop Ghosh and Co. Pamela recommended their chocolate sandesh that are deemed as the best in the city. We were pretty surprised by this innovative sweet whose optimally sweet, balanced chocolaty taste was pure delight. We also tried the seasonal jaggery sandesh that was made with the season’s special date palm jaggery called the Notun Gur. This one surprised us with a coconut filling inside.

Next place was again a sweet shop that is an institution when it comes to the traditional Bengali sweet called Sandesh. A visit to the land of sweets in incomplete without paying a visit to the legendary Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandi who have been selling just sandesh since 1844. A morsel of their coveted Jalbhara was enough to cement their indisputable reputation of being the best sandesh maker in the city. We also loved their Mohini Sandesh, coffee sandesh.

From there we went to try some chaat from 80 year old Hedua Chaat Corner. Their Singhara with lentil stuffing and tikkiya chaat were hearty and fun. Soon it was time to try another popular evening time Bengali snacks called chop or vegetable fritters at the celebrated Lakshmi Narayan Shaw and Sons shop.

The Aam Choop and Beguni were delicious. After such deep fried savoury treats we arrived at Allen’s Kitchen to relish their special prawn cutlet. This greasy prawn fritter made with humble ingredients was truly indulgent.

Our penultimate stop was this iconic eatery named Mitra Cafe. We loved their best selling dish fish fry and chicken cutlet. It was soon time to wrap up this gratifying food trail that was full of flavours and stories. Stay tuned for more.

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NORTH KOLKATA(COLLEGE SQUARE) FOOD TOUR

The worldwide glory of Kolkata rests not just on its rich history and heritage, diverse cultural and deep intellectual canvas but also on its irresistible food scenario that is a convergence of subtle and robust flavours. So today we are exploring the go to food items that thrives in the historic, vibrant and nostalgic lanes of North Kolkata along with our gracious host Pamela Das.

Before heading to College street or Boi Para as it is locally known as, we had to commence our food tour in the city with the ubiquitous Bengali sweet Rosogolla that is one of the soul foods of this historical city. And for this Pamela took us to Chittaranjan Mistanna Bhandar who Rosogollas are deemed as the best in this part of the city. True to its reputation, each of the syrupy white balls transported us to a state where there was complete bliss. It was fascinating to learn about the evolution of sweets especially the Rosogolla from Pamella.

Every nook and corner of North Kolkata is replete with history, a significant chunk of which relates to the Colonial rule. We visited the Shobabazar Rajbari which is among one of the oldest royal houses of Kolkata aristocracy. This important heritage site is famous for its annual Durga Puja celebrations in the month of October-November.

 

From there we reached the 300 plus year old potter’s colony called Kumartuli, that is the largest workshop for clay idols, sculptures and earthenware. Watching the artisans in action was a fascinating sight to behold. From there we covered a distance of nearly 3 kms to reach our next destination, College street. It is a huge area lined with books shops. College street is the learning center as it also harbours some of the oldest schools, colleges and universities.

We started our food trail with Radhaballabhi, Cholar Dal, Aloo Dum and Misti Doi from Putiram, a century old iconic sweet shop in the area whose sweets and breakfast snack are a craze with students, professors, teachers and locals. The food was subtle yet delicious. And the ambience especially the stone tables and the wooden furniture spoke of its glorious heritage.

Then we headed to another heritage shop named Paramount that has been serving an eclectic range of refreshing flavoured drinks since 1918. We opted for tender coconut and tamarind sherbet. As the drinks were being prepared, Pamela informed us how the place used to be a center of nationalists activities during the freedom struggle. Both the drinks were totally contrasting in taste yet amazing.

Our next destination was Indian Coffee House. Situated in the academic hub of Kolkata, the College Street, it is a favourite destination for hangouts not only for the students of nearby schools and colleges (Presidency college, Vidyasagar College etc.) but also the office goers and intellectuals of Kolkata. And all this glory is due to the colonial nostalgia that it boasts of. We tried their black coffee called Infusion and learnt about its history from our host. The food here is decent the ambience is magnetic.

Our penultimate stop was Dilkhusa Cabin, a 102 year old eatery that mostly serves cutlets and croquettes among other popular Indian dishes. We tried there Bhetki Kabiraji that was super greasy but delectable. These cabins used to serve as private eating spaces for the womenfolks of the aristocrat families who came to try European snacks. And the word Kabiraji is a distortion of the word coverage that refers to the egg and flour coating over the fish fillet. The final stop in this leg of our trail was Favourite cabin. This humble eatery that now serves basic snacks like tea, toast, cakes etc to the masses who loves adda or group talks was once the favourite hangout zone for eminent freedom fighters, leaders, poets and intellectuals like Netaji, Kavi Nazrul etc.

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BRUNCH AND MORE AT CAFE AMARETTO

Sunday mornings are for indulgence, for unwinding and for savouring. I decided to head to brunch with a friend to Café Amaretto in South Point Mall on Golf Course Road in Gurgaon to give in to my growling stomach. The name Amaretto is inspired by a liqueur by the same name hailing from Italy. It is an almond flavoured liqueur, which I am now tempted to try. 

The café is warm and cosy, perfect for a winter morning, complete with fairy lights at the entrance and large paintings on the walls. The décor is simple, mostly hues of white and beige. We ordered a round of eggs benedict to begin with. The eggs were cooked perfectly, the ham poached, and the hollandaise sauce had a hint of tanginess to it. It was accompanied with fried potato sticks. I decided to try the Amaretto’s healthy concoction to go with it and give me a healthy kick to the meal. It was a delicious mixture of fresh fruits and veggies including apple, beetroot, carrot and celery. My friend opted for the safer, more traditional option; cappuccino served with a side of crumbly biscotti. The service was swift, and efficient.

We followed up the eggs with buttermilk pancakes alongside Nutella, whipped cream and honey. The pancakes were browned, fluffy and drizzled with almond bits, pomegranate arils and powdered sugar. 

 

Amaretto’s winter collection of wholesome, hot and comforting dishes enticed us to push ourselves to try the gnocchi filled with mozzarella and basil tossed in a tomato confit broth. I can never resist a good gnocchi dish and this particular one was quite unexpectedly unusual and tasty. The tomato broth was flavourful, and the cheese and gnocchi bits balanced out the dish very well. It is a must have if you go in the winter. Overall, a lovely morning of having familiar comfort foods along with flavoursome and unique combinations.

Price for two: Rs. 2000

Location: Lower Ground Floor, South Point Mall, Golf Course Road, Gurgaon

 

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POKHARA FOOD TOUR

 

With all its scenic beauty, Pokhara is one of the most enchanting valleys in Nepal. The green hills, lakes, forests, rivers, waterfalls, terraced fields etc are like a balm for the weary soul. Popularly known as “City of Tourism”, it city is quite free from any kind of pollution. Tourists flock here to enjoy its natural beauty and also to take part in adventure sports that this place is famous for too. So during our Nepal Food Tour, we were here to explore the culinary side of this postcard perfect place. And in this exploration we were joined by our host Kamal Bhatta who has explored this place well. Our gastronomic journey started with a pleasant stroll around the cobbled and beatified pathways around the Phewa lake. Here you will find quite a few hawkers selling fresh food items mostly breads , pastries etc in wicker baskets. We bought a cinnamon roll and croissant from an old lady and a young man respectively. They were quite decent in taste and fresh as well.

From there we went to visit the Gupteswar Mahadev Temple and Davi’s Fall. This famous cave has many shrines, the most important of which is the temple of Lord shiva. Within 2-3 km of Davi’s Fall there are many eateries, few of which are very popular. So we went to Mt. Kailash Tibetan Restaurant for some yummy and authentic Tibetan style momo and shabaley. Everything that we tried at this small eatery was quite impressive. Next we went to another Tibetan restaurant run by a Nepali lady who has lived in Punjab. There we ordered some Bhaklep(Tibetan bread), curry and Po Cha(salty butter tea). The naan like, griddle baked flat bread along with a simple curry made of potatoes, ridge gourd and chicken was quite a hearty combination.

 

We then went to the Lakeside part of Phewa lake that is known for swanky restaurants and hangout spots. The Duna Tapari restaurant here specializes in an awesome fish based menu. Fish lovers from far and near come here for traditional fish based delicacies made from the fresh catch sourced from the lake. We ordered Bitte tareko, Hans Choila, Paphar ko roti, polecko machha, machha jhol, machha surawa and few other things. Fresh ingredients and right use of condiments and masalas everything tasted brilliant. After some recreational activities nearby, as evening approached we got hungry and went to have the Traditional Thenkthuk from Sherpa Kitchen. This pretty restaurant is run by a Sherpa family. We saw how the simple yet comforting soup was prepared using common ingredients. But it was the seasoning of the very versatile local pepper called Timmur that enhanced its flavours.

 

Our last stop for the day was a popular restaurant named Fewa Thakali Bhanchha. As the name suggests it was all about Thakali cuisine. We ordered the Cheli set. The term refers to aunt so it is a platter dedicated to the lovely ladies in our life. There were nearly 12 things in the platter including starter, main course and beverage. The most impressive components of this set were steamed Jetha Budho rice, Mustang simi beans dal, Aloo tareko, Aloo dhameko, Fish fry, Mutton fry and chutneys. It was indeed a super gratifying meal. Everything was balanced and flavourful especially the Jetha Budo rice which is like the Basmati Rice of Nepal.

We are grateful to Kamal for this interesting food tour set amidst the natural grandeur of this place. Till next time keep walking and keep exploring. And for all the food related details check the video linked above.

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NEWARI AND OTHER ETHNIC CUISINE IN NEPAL

Taking ahead our food escapades in Nepal, in this episode we are exploring some authentic ethnic recipes from the cities of Kirtipur and Lalitpur. Along with our gracious and genial host Sanam Chitrakar, we visited two very special eateries that specialises in traditional food from different parts of Nepal. This gastronomic journey includes a scrumptious experience from Newa Lahana in Kirtipur and Raithaane in Lalitpur(Patan). Kirtipur is an ancient city teeming with history, heritage, rich culture and hospitality, stunning landscape views and several monuments. We started with Kirtipur. Situated at the distance of 5km south-west from the Kathmandu, it is a center of Newar culture.

 

 

Here, Newa Lahana is a community run restaurant and open museum working towards the promotion and conservation of the Newar culture. With fully traditional setting, arrangements and menu, it is a flag bearer in presenting authentic Newari cuisine to the world. As we entered the kitchen, we were greeted by a jolly, dexterous and busy team of local womenfolk dressed in their traditional Haku Patasi. The menu here was quite extensive. We ordered Chatamari (rice pancakes with meat and egg), Samay Bhaji(Snacks Platter), Wo(lentil pancake), Chusya Mushya(grain based snacks platter), Shyapu Mhicha(bone marrow stuffed buffalo tripe) , Yomari(steamed rice cakes with jaggery filling) along with some native rice based liquor. The home style food was fresh and super flavourful.

 

The variety flavours and textures was simply impressive. There is so much dynamism in the cuisine that leaves you gratified. Our ultimate favourite of the lot was the toothsome Yomari. The jaggery oozing out into mouth from the steamed rice cakes transports you to a blissful zone where its just you and this popular (revered) dessert. But the liquor made from fermented rice was strong and sharp for our palette.

From there we went to Lalitpur(Patan) to another special restaurant named Raithaane. Founded by three passionate young men, it intends to introduce the world to the traditional ingredients and components of the ethnic Nepalese cuisines through its super fascinating menu. It is like the amalgamation of the under appreciated and under rated aspects- be it ingredients or cooking techniques-of Nepal’s food traditions. Here we were joined by Prasantha Khanal, a co founder of the place who briefed us about the lesser known dishes and ingredients from different parts of Nepal. On his recommendation, we tried some very unusual dishes. So there were Rikikur(savoury potato pancakes), Kanchemba(buckwheat fries) and Chamre Fakse( aromatic rice with pork and wild lichen dish). Prasantha patiently familiarized us with the details of the dishes. The taste and flavours were very unique and unprecedented. Our favourite was the kanchambe with Timmur Chop(dried spice mix made with a local chilli). The experience at Raithaane was gratifying and insightful. We are grateful to Sanam for taking us around to such amazing places, to the amazing team at Newa Lahana and Raithaane for such amazing food and great hospitality and to Prasantha for all the insights. Till next time keep walking and Keep exploring.

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NEPAL BHAKTAPUR FOOD TOUR

 

As a part of our ongoing Nepal Food Series, we are at Bhaktapur or the City of Devotees to explore its unique food traditions. It is named so as it has three major squares full of towering pagoda style temples that boasts of some of the finest religious architecture in the country. The remarkable structures- with exquisite wood carvings and metal craft- pervading the cityscape, transported us to ancient times. Moreover the car free city centre here is a happening spot teeming with tourists and locals. As you stroll down the lanes, you discover how art and craft occupies a significant place in the culture of Bhaktapur. The alleyways with varied shops and workshops are a testimony to its vibrant cultural heritage that is still very dynamic. Once you reach here you will find yourselves amidst friendly natives.

In our gastronomic exploration at this sleepy city we are joined by our foodie host Kamal Bhatta who is keenly familiar with the traditions of this place. The menu out here, on the streets is mostly Newari food. Come let’s see what all did we tried in this tour.

Sel Roti, Jerry, Swaari and Malpua

Before starting for Bhaktapur at morning, we relished some popular street side breakfast items at the main marketplace in Kathmandu. For this we first bought some Gwaramari(round, fried all purpose flour based sweet bread), Malpua, Sel Roti(ring-shaped, sweet rice bread), Jerry(similar to Jalebi) and Swaari(thin, soft puri) from different places and then settled down to have it with a glass of milky tea, just how the locals do. The most notable snack among these was the Sel Roti that was a ring shaped, deep fried sweet bread made with rice flour. Again Swaari and Jerry together made an interesting combination. The most delightful thing about the eating experience was witnessing them being prepared fresh. The dishes were simple, familiar but yummy and filling.

On reaching Bhaktapur, we embarked on a pleasant stroll down the alleys of this heritage city in search some quintessential food. Our first stop was a local sweet shop where we tried the Balbara and Gudpak. The first one is a sweet, crisp, deep fried, sugar glazed flatbread while the second one is a traditional fudge like sweet made with khoya, gond, ghee, nuts, etc. Its rich and dense texture reminded us of our very own Dodha Burfi.

Choila

Next we arrived at another sleepy lane where locals-kids, young and old-were relaxing or socialising on the raised verandah of the native buildings. We were here to have fresh and hot aloo chop or potato fritters. We loved the mildly spiced fritters served with a spicy chutney. From there we went to the simple looking Choila Specialist at Kamalvinayak, whose Choila, Thon and Aloo Tama are quite popular with the locals. The Choila here, which is a meat based appetizer was lip smacking and hence the name of the place stands quite justifiable. It is just small pieces of tender, perfectly grilled meat that is mixed with raw ginger garlic paste, chilli paste, salt, green garlic and dressed with heated mustard oil. The flavourful Choila effortlessly complimented the traditional rice based alcoholic drink Thon or Chyang. Another traditional Newari dish the Aloo Tama, a delicious curry made with potatoes, bamboo shoots, black eyed peas etc. was delicious too.

 

After those robust tastes we went to try the iconic Juju Dhau or ‘King Curd’ that is one of the must try delicacy in the region. We were bowled over by the thick, luscious, velvety and creamy texture of this buffalo milk based curd. Do notice the hint of earthiness that comes from the earthenware used to set it.

 

Barra Wo

Next were the turn another Newari dish Barra and Wo which are essentially savoury black lentil pancakes. Just as we entered the place we were greeted by a smiling old lady sitting behind a busy griddle full of round Barras. These delicious lentil pancakes can be customised into different forms. So you can have the plain ones, ones with just meat or just eggs and then the ones with both meat and eggs. They serve it with a spicy and tangy channa curry or dry potato sabzi. The lentils lend it a nice, soft and fluffy body while the cooked minced meat and and eggs adds to the flavours. Interacting with Ama, the genial lady running the Barra counter with such an effortless ease was a memorable experience. More than the irresistible aromas suffusing the place, the warmth exuding from Ama gave us homely vibes.

 

Chitwan Ka Taas

 

 

Our last food destination was Bhetghat restaurant in Kathmandu which serves a very special meat dish from the Chitwan region called Taas. It is an amazing dish consisting of crisp and tender shallow fried meat pieces served with puffed rice and radish pickles. The flavoursome taste of meat, basic spices and most importantly mustard oil conjured up nostalgia of this dish that he had tried at his birthplace Muzzafarpur, Bihar. Do come and bond over a plate of Taas. With our tummy and heart both contended, we wrapped up the tour.

Heartfelt thanks to Kamal for taking us to such gem of places. Till next time keep walking and keep exploring.

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INCREDIBLE MOMO TRAIL IN NEPAL

 

When you think of the most ubiquitous street food in Nepal, there flashes the sight of piping hot momo that warms the cockles of your heart and makes you drool. If you take a stock of the culinary scene on the busy streets and alleys and you will get to fathom the phenomenal popularity of this dish. Such is the craze, especially among the young crowd that that momo have attained the status of unofficial national dish of the country. Hence we are on a momo trail to taste the incredible variety that is available locally. To guide us on this fascinating culinary trail featuring this quintessential Nepalese dish we are joined by Kamal who is a momo aficionado too.

 

Our first stop was Ghangri Cafe at Jhamshel, Kathmandu. This place is famous for what is known as open momo or Sui Mui momo. Available in chicken, pork and buff, they are loved for their unique flower-like shape and of course their unparalleled taste. One bite is enough to fall in love with these open momos. As the three different chutneys accompanying the delicacy reaches the stuffing inside the momo through the open ends it infuses them with a vibrant character and transforms them into tiny bombs of flavours. Apart from the taste what we loved about them was that the juiciness is very much intact in these momo.

The next stop was Mahabharat momo in Patan Dhoka. Before trying their popular Jhol momo, we first witnessed the making of the momo in the kitchen. This kind of momo originated from the Newari community. It was fascinating to watch a team of young workers efficiently doling out momo in lightning speed. We then tried a plateful of freshly steamed momo that is to be eaten with the creamy and spicy sesame, peanuts, soyabean and fresh coriander based broth. The momo and the broth are served separately and one has to dunk them in the broth and have them together to get the real feel of the combo.

Next was the turn of another batch of jhol momos at Narayan Dai Ko Mashangali. This variant was completely different from the previous Jhol Momos as the broth here was thin, spicy and tangy due to the use of a local sour fruit called Lapsi Nepali Hog Plum (Choerospondias axillaris). They serve you fresh chicken, mutton or buff momo in a bowl which you need to submerge with ladle full of this sour, runny broth from the huge clay vessels kept at the counter and enjoy. The taste was indeed very unique and irresistible. The momo were perfectly done and the broth just accentuate the whole flavour profile.

 

Our next destination was a Sinka restaurant which is famous for Chaat momo and the unique Sizzler momo. The first one is zesty, sweet and sour combination of fried chicken momos that is topped with beaten curd, chutneys, peanuts, onions and chaat masala. This chat was quite unique and flavoursome. Trying a Chaat with fried momo as the base was a novel experience for us. The second dish is a sizzler platter comprising of steamed chicken momos, stir fried noodles and stir fried veggies,. This one was flambeed with Khukri Rum and had very interesting Continental flavours that came from the various herbs used in the dish.

Our final destination in the trail was a quaint and cosy eatery named Noyoz. Here we met the very graceful food connoisseur and entrepreneur, Susan Karmacharya who was there to guide us more about the momo culture in Nepal. Here we tried a couple of their bestsellers like the smoked pork and aloo nimki along with two kinds of momo- the kothey momo and steamed chicken momo in white sauce. The smoked pork was succulent, fatty, flavoursome, smoky and hearty. Aloo nimki, a popular Nepalese snacks, with multitude flavours was a welcome change.

It was such a memorable momo journey where we relished some of the best momo from the city and met some really amazing people who are serving it to the masses. Heartfelt thanks to Kamal and Susan for their insights that resulted in such a gratifying trail. Till next time Keep walking and keep exploring.