Eating Banana fritters in Hoi An

On our first trip to Vietnam, my friend and I found slices of India everywhere. A popular Hindi TV show played on tiny screens in markets, hosts shared notes about their favourite Bollywood movies, and we had in depth discussions about why Indians don’t win global beauty pageants anymore.

At the end of our ten-day trip, we chanced upon a fried street snack that satiated our craving for home food. The Banana Fritters (chuối chiên) were as brown as our skin, and as sweet as they were cheap. The golden brown banana fritter was sticky, speckled with sesame seeds, crispy on the outside and oozing with sweetness on the inside. It was the perfect morning treat, a sweeter version of the fried snacks we eat on Mumbai’s crowded streets when in need of a quick and filling meal.

We discovered it, much like the best things in life, by accident. It was our last day in Hoi An, that heritage town of cobbled paths, ancient shopfronts and lanterns swaying in the wind. We had guzzled cheap beer, munched on grilled meat on the streets and loaded up on cheap trinkets at the night market. We were on the hunt for an authentic eating experience.

A crowd led us to it.

They were gathered around a small cart so, we went to investigate. This curiosity is an innate Indian thing – we see a group of people gathered around something, and we will instantly gravitate towards it. People were engrossed in watching something. A closer look revealed a street cart, and the people around it were brimming with desire.


We heard the sound first, the heavy sizzle that signifies something has been dunked into a pan full of hot oil. It soon relapsed into a melody of crackles and hissing. A young woman stood behind the cart peeling bananas and slicing them into perfect halves. The bananas, swaying in the wind above her head, were no ordinary ones but small and stubby (called chuoi su or chuoi xiem). She dunked these slices into a mixture of rice flour, sugar, salt and water, before popping them into a pan of oil. When they attained
a golden brown colour, she held it aloft for a few seconds before placing it on a stand. As it stood there, dripping oil, us hungry hordes could only gaze at its delicious crunchiness, willing it to cool faster so we could get our hands on it.

banana fritter

There were also plates of crab fritters and sweet buns filled with mung bean and coconut but we only 
had eyes for that stick sweet snack. Money exchanged hands and soon, we were holding then in our hands, a flimsy napkin protecting us from the heat.

We were soon busy munching on the fritter, enjoying the noisy eating process and savouring the ensuing sugar rush. It was a high that lasted us till lunchtime, and one that was more intoxicating than the local beer.

The piece was first published in Roads and Kingdoms, here.

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Samosa lovin’ with A-1

THEY’RE the stuff of food legend. The A-1 samosas have made their way from a small space in Sion to theatres and multiplexes across the city, where they provide much-needed, inexpensive nourishment at intervals. 

I heard about A-1 samosas years back but despite eating them at theatres, and in Guru Kripa as part of their famous Samosa Chhole, I haven’t visited the original place.

Then, work drove me there.  

On a busy evening, I walked past the crowd milling outside guru Kripa and made my way to the shop across the road. The store may be big, but the action takes place around a tiny stall out front. There, stainless steel trays are piled high with piping hot snacks; you can still see the oil glistening on the crunchy brown samosas.  

Aside: History – The outlet was started in the 1970s by Kishanchand Nevendram, a Sindhi from Karachi who settled in Mumbai after the Partition. They have now expanded to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Sharjah, and Singapore, and are also sold frozen. 

The place is known for its samosas and it’s what they make best, with a few interesting variations to the traditional Punjabi offering; each comes priced at Rs 10. 

The Chinese Samosa was an oily mess, stuffed with noodles in the typical red sauce reminiscent of Chinese bhel on the streets. The Cheese Corn Samosa was a delicious combination of crunchy sweet corn, capsicum and just enough cheese. The Paneer Tikka Samosa tasted exactly like the dish – soft paneer slathered in spicy masala. A favourite was the traditional offering, the Punjabi samosa stuffed with its spicy potato mixture.

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Cheese Corn Samosa

They don’t just sell samosas here but other snacks, too. The Pizza Bun (Rs 30) – a round bun filled with pizza toppings like cheese, corn, capsicum and sauce was tasty but inspiring. A friend called it ‘something you would find at Monginis’. The clover-shaped Alu Pops had s similar stuffing to the samosa but a tasteless coating; and the Small Kachori (Rs 6 per piece) was a sweet, Gujarati version of the spicy snack.

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Alu Pops

Each snack was served in a paper bag advertising their bestselling items, heating instructions, and the fact that is prepared in refined groundnut oil (as recommended by the American Heart Association).

There’s no seating space so you have to stand and eat the samosas out of the bag. It’s quite an experience and for entertainment, you can watching the hordes milling outside Guru Kripa or better yet, be treated to the sight of dozens of freshly fried samosas getting segregated in trays for service. 

 A1 Samosa stall is located at A/1, Sion Sindhi Colony, Opposite Gurukripa Hotel, Sion (E); open from 10 am to 11 pm; call 24074790

Chaat Stories: Bengali snacks, in Bombay

“Bengalis call peanuts badam. They call almonds badam too.”

We are at Chaat Stories, the newest entrant on the buzzing and food-filled Carter road stretch in Bandra. My dinner date is Yoshita, my friend, roommate and last word on all thing Bengali. She is responding to the look of surprise on my face as I am handed a plate piled high with fat peanuts, onions and spices or Kolkata Badaam Chaat (Rs 90).

badaam-chaat
Badaam chaat aka peanuts overload

CS has the look associated with everything new, bright lights, clean counters, shining menu cards plastered all over and for some reason, a big mirror inside. There are six counters, four on the pavement and two inside.

Outside has the buzz. There’s a counter making jalebis, another serving chai and yet another offering kulfi. We head to the puchka counter. The Kolkata Puchka (Rs 80) – crumbly puri filled with an aloo mixture and dunked in a tangy and spicy paani wins our approval. Of course, just like the last time, the puri breaks before I can eat it but I soldier on, managing to stuff the whole thing in. There’s also an option of meetha paani but it is too sweet. 

The same stall gives us our Kolkata Aloo Chaat (Rs 100) – a fiery mixture of chunky boiled potato pieces mixed with spices. Our Mumbai tastebuds find comfort in the Kolkata Dum Aloo Chaat (Rs 100) – a dish created for locals. The fiery potato filled gravy would go great with paratha.

 


The two counters inside are designed like faux street carts, with wheels and names of dishes printed in front but with a marble-top meant for cooking. There, we stand and watch our Kolkata Jhal Mudi (Rs 70) being prepared. Before he serves it, the cook hands us a little on a spoon to taste. He says it’s because people can’t stomach too much mustard. The Jhal Mudi has puffed rice, onions, peanuts, gram, and mixture of spices but it is the mustard that overpowers it all, leaving us with a difficult-to-get-rid-of aftertaste.


The Kesar Masala Chai (Rs 70) disappoints – it looks good with saffron strands on top but it hasn’t been boiled enough. The Kolkata Hot Kesar Jalebi (Rs 60 for 60 gms) is crunchy but doesn’t have the softness expected when you bite into a jalebi. “This is candy,” says Y.

Chaat Stories feels like it could be your local adda. The staff is friendly, they will willingly serve you bowls of sweet date chutney or adjust spices to your taste. Just don’t ask them ‘what’s a puchka’. You will be given a glare and a biting response: “Paani puri”.

Chaat Stories is located at A-9, Union Park Road, Carter Road, Bandra (W); open from 4 pm to 12 midnight; call 7021333313 or log on to Chaat Stories on Facebook