Soul food, served up dhaba-style!

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

Eating your way through this country could sound like a dream to some, and a stomach-churning nightmare to others. Clearly, the inimitable pair of Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma have chomped their way into the former category. Couch potatoes will recall with relish their TV series on NDTV’s ‘Good Times’, where they matched the appetite of truck drivers, tangri for tangri and paya for paya!

Roused by rosy remembrances of those tantalising aromas in soot-covered dhabas, they’ve adapted their experiences to ‘Highway On My Plate’, a guide to roadside eating in India.

From Kakinada to Kohima, Rocky and Mayur scrape their bowls, smack their lips and swirl their spoons with gusto. They warn you about mediocre eateries that tourists throng along the highways and encourage you to pay homage at the places where the locals line up, be it for paper-thin pootharekulu — a crisp and cardamom-kissed sweet in Vijayawada, or vegetable momos, steamed to perfection in the hills of Darjeeling by a rock star-turned-restaurateur.

Most of these culinary hotspots won’t make the grade when officials from the Department of Health come calling, but like Rocky and Mayur cheerfully advise, the less you seek ambience at such joints, the better. To them, confirmation of India’s evolved palate comes in the form of a spellbinding haleem breakfast at the unpretentious ‘Medina Hotel’ in Hyderabad during the holy month of Ramzan.

With grease dripping down their chins at ‘Beera Chicken’ in Amritsar, they swoon at the sight of marinated meats, fired up tandoors and glowing coals.

Their journey is all about food for the masses, be it the dalda-doused kathi rolls at Nizams Restaurant in Kolkata or the bursting-with-goodness kara prasad at the langar in Amritsar’s ‘Golden Temple’.

To them, location is no downer. Dining under a tin roof in a dhaba in Kolhapur while trucks thunder along National Highway 4 does not take away from the delights of a spicy Chicken Malwani. Nor do impassioned speech makers at Hogs Street in Kolkata distract them from their plate of piping hot Kathi Kebabs.

It’s not just the robust dhaba fare, such as parathas slathered in desi ghee and mutton chunks swimming in masala, that they enjoy. They are equally inspired by the chewy breads, the citrusy marmalades and the creamy cold coffees served in cosy cafes in hill stations, where the Raj lingers on.

‘Highway On My Plate’ is special not just for its racy food writing but also for its attempt to chronicle legendary eateries like ‘Kesar Da Dhaba’ (operational in Amritsar since 1916) and profile quirky people such as Boman Kohinoor, who presides over ‘Britannia And Company’ famous all over Mumbai for its Berry Pulao, Dhansak and Sali Boti. They recognise the genius of Tundey Miyan and his melt-in-the-mouth kebabs in Lucknow and the wizardry of Raja Bhau of ‘All India Special Bhel’ in Kolhapur, who, single-handed, rustles up ambrosia for hundreds who patronise his push cart in Khasbaug.

The rating scale (taste, ambience, value for money, service), which Rocky and Mayur adopt, is spot on.

On a recent road trip to Chennai, we stopped at ‘Anjappars’ for lunch and found that oblivious to the noise and the throng around them, those lucky to grab a table were completely focused on the nethili (anchovies) fry and the kada (quail) roast in front of them!

The tales are well researched but the many, many typos that pepper the pages with shocking regularity are hard to digest. Didn’t the foodie pair learn from the eagle-eyed cooks they met across India that the devil is in the details?

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