Category Archives: Off the street

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.

Advertisements

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.

a14

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.

a13

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

Cold treats: Scoopalicious

The guava ice cream melted in our mouth in a burst of flavours – sweet, grainy fruit with a touch of salt and spice from the special masala sprinkled on top. It took us back to afternoons spent sitting under a tree, eating (stolen) guavas sprinkled with salt and chilli powder.  

guava

Guava

Nostalgia, and this Guava Ice Cream,  comes cheap at the city’s newest ice cream store, Scoopalicious. There’s the decadent Christmas rum cake, strawberry jam cookies eaten at tea time, the kulfis eaten after school as a treat and jeera sharbat eaten on hot summer days. These familiar flavours are plucked right out of our memories and served up as ice cream, in a plastic cup or waffle cone.

Scoopalicious is actually a stall on Hill Road, sparsely decorated with action figurines and masks and fairy lights. It is an extension of Roysten Misquitta’s ice cream food truck of the same name, launched last year.  

 

It made sense that we drop by on an evening when the city is enjoying an unnaturally cold few days. What’s better than a cold treat on a cold night? We sampled a few of the ice creams available before choosing our favourite. 

The space serves about 35 flavours of ice cream, many of them seasonal. The menu is divided broadly into Out of the box – beetroot, pumpkin pie, black sesame and honey, rum cake; seasonal fresh fruits – coconut, sitaphal, guava and dates; vegan ice creams; and favourites – filter coffee, mocha bourbon, white and dark chocolate blondies and banana caramel. Each scoop is priced between Rs 50 to Rs 60 (scoops), Rs 70 (waffle cones), Rs 230 to Rs 250 (350 ml). 

The Pumpkin Pie, like the dish, was sweet, creamy and had a mild spicy undertone with a sweetness from jaggery. The Caramel Popcorn was on the sweeter side but filled with the toasty flavour from caramel and slight crunch from actual popcorn pieces. The Coconut Ice cream got its richness and sweetness from dessicated coconut. 

The stand out flavours were the unusual ones. Black Sesame and Honey was a combination of a smoky, nutty tinge balanced by the mild sweetness from the honey. It was a beautiful pairing. The Rum Cake was a decadent, boozy scoop that surprised it’s with its intensity; it tasted like a rum ball. Banana Chip had bits of fried chips adding a different texture and that slight fired taste to a simple banana ice cream. 

scoops

(Clockwise from top right corner) Guava, Rum Cake, Banana Chip, Black Sesame and Honey, Caramel Popcorn

Scoopalicious’ ice creams are organic, made with little sugar (most have jaggery), no preservatives nor added flavours. They have vanilla, tutti frutti and kesar pista flavours to cater to schoolkids who come specifically asking for those (scoops priced at Rs 30). The future will see milkshakes added to the menu. Look out for a Bailey’s and butterscotch flavours in February.    

Scoopalicious is situated opposite St Peter’s Church on Hill Road in Bandra; open from 12 pm to 12 am (Monday to Sunday); call 9820215086 

 

Street eats: Gofry

This is a Gofry. The snack ties in with the Polish love for all things sweet. It is simply a waffle or a waffle sandwich that is topped with everything sweet possible: think whipped cream, jam, Nutella, fresh fruits. It is sinful and delicious, if you ignore the amount of sugar that’s going in your body. 

I was recommended this snack by my couchsurfing hosts, who even told me precisely where to get it. It was a tiny stall, a hole in a window, at the first turning near  Łazienki Park. My hosts had written down exactly what I should order and so I did – a gofry with whipped cream and every fruit available. I ate every last bite, after carefully removing most of the whipped cream. The pancake was soft and crunchy and combined with the cold whipped cream and fruits made for a tasty and very filling snack.  

Ken-Mary’s: Snacking on Waroda Road

If you’re walking down Waroda Road, blink and you will probably miss Ken-Mary’s. Your attention would probably be on the colourful, graffiti in Jude Bakery’s shutters. 

Look on the road opposite and you will spot this tiny shop, sandwiched between a bike repair place and a house. There are always people milling about here. Customers breeze in and out, people who’ve given their bikes for repair will come to pass time, schoolkids will come for snacks and in between it all, a neighbour will pop in to say, “Switch off the tap”. The place had a comforting friendliness to the store that started four years back, about the time Jude Bakery shut down. 

Here, you can buy quick, cheap snacks – puffs, croissants, rolls, burgers, Shrewsbury biscuits, kulkuls, milk cream and neuris (during Christmas season). 

Chicken Croissant (Rs 15) has a spicy chicken and onion filling; Chicken Chilly Roll (Rs 30) with its shiny black sesame-crusted coat has a similar filling; Chicken Cheese Puff (Rs 15) has a thick, cheesy centre and Veg Puff (Rs 15) is a mishmash of veggies

The store is run by Cletus Dias, who worked at Café Andora for 18 years before coming here. They also cater parties and weddings. His recommendation is the Sugar Hearts (Rs 55 for quarter kg), a biscuit that will take you back to that sweet childhood snack, little hearts. 

The biscuits are light and flaky and despite the sugar coating,  not too sweet

The Coco Cherry (Rs 50 for quarter kg) is a buttery, nutty biscuit with a sweet bite from the cherry

Peek into their kitchen and you will find trays of soft pao and dinner rolls fresh out of the oven. 

Dinner rolls, hot dog rolls and other bread is available only on order

Sit on one of their worn leather seats and watch the world go by or just admire the beautiful bungalows opposite. If lucky, you may just hear a smattering of Konkani or someone playing the piano nearby.

Ken-Mary’s is located on 56/87-3A, Palm View, Waroda Road, Bandra; open from 7am to 9.30pm; call 9773645741