In Bengali, there is a saying – ‘paayer tawlaay shorshey’, which in simpler terms, means that a Bengali is always on the lookout for opportunities to travel. Thanks to my father, travelling did become a regular feature in our lives as we were growing up. We would travel twice a year, once in the summers and then again in the winter vacation. And of course, food memories are special in every one of those travels.
Thanks to these tours, I have lovely memories of different cuisines. There were the thaalis at Rajasthan, amazing in taste and still fresh in my mind for the vibrancy of the look of the dishes. Then there was the Gujarati thaali we had for the first time at Mumbai. The sheer number of katoris/bowls around the huge thaali, each with something different was enough to blow our minds. I remember the roadside dhaaba paranthas we had, while on our way to Agra from Delhi. Nowhere else have I been able to match the taste of Alu Paranthas (flatbread with potato stuffing) with what we had feasted on from that dhaaba. Then there is ‘chhanapoda’, a sweet from Orissa. I remember, my brother contracted measles during that trip and my parents and granny had to stay at the guest house with him. I toured around Puri with my cousin brother who was also travelling with us in that trip. It was a bus trip to notable places around, and at one of the stops, we had ‘chhanapoda’ (steamed cottage cheese with the top brilliantly browned off, sweet in taste but never too much) from a roadside stall. Both of us had to stop unwillingly after the third helping, else the bus would have left without us. When we had gone to visit my brother at Venaras during his B.H.U days, he had made us taste ‘Hajmola Chaay’ (tea in tangy digestive candy flavor). Post marriage, the best memory I have is of ‘fish-n-chips’, which became almost our staple diet in almost all meals during our honeymoon. Again, I have to say that that the crunchiness and freshness of that dish tasted in that island is something I have failed to taste even in some of the most popular restaurants. Work posting/trips made me taste lassi in long steel glasses at ‘Oye Amritsar’ in Bangalore and at a roadside shop (identified by my cab driver) in Amritsar. The WOW and the feeling of content still linger.
However, there are 2 special travel and food memories that I would like to share. One was in South India when I was travelling with my friend and the other was in my trek to Sandakphu. Both were amazing trips and these 2 food memories do add up to the happiness quotient score for both these trips.
Trip to Chikmaglur on a weekend, to do so sightseeing the first day and attend a wedding and return thereafter, that was the simple plan. So Friday night we two set sail, starting our bus tour from Bangalore to Chikmaglur around 11 in the night and we reached at around 5am in the morning. The bus depot had a small restaurant where you could get tea and snacks and we were hungry. Our car was to come around 6:30am and we immediately turned at the sole waiter, a young guy in his late teens possibly, asking him what is available. He replied that its only tea and biscuits right now. However, looking at our disappointed faces, he was kind enough to remark that he’ll prepare some snack for us.
Gleefully we asked what the options were and decided on the unusually named ‘Cho-Cho-Bath’, from the waiter’s suggested options. Those were the initial days and we still hadn’t tasted this delicacy, neither had we heard that name earlier. The name was too funny and we burst out laughing when we first heard it. The waiter, puzzled about the reason why we couldn’t stop laughing, walked away with a dazed look. Unfortunately, the language barrier between us didn’t give us any clear idea about what the dish could be. No, internet wasn’t that strong in that area as well, to let us check our phones. Sipping on our tea and munching on some cashew biscuits, we waited with bated breath about what could be this mystery dish. Soon, we could see the waiter carry to us a steel tray and within seconds, he placed the tray on our table. We could see 2 clear parts in the dish, one white and one yellow. A spoon of each side and we realized it is a combination of Upma (a salty dish made by frying Rava with chana dal, mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions and sometimes vegetables being added) and Suji Halwa (a sweet dish made of Rava again, simply by boiling rava in milk, sugar being added later). Though disappointed by the lack of mystery in the dish, we loved the simplicity with which it was prepared and gobbled up every morsel of it. We thanked the waiter profusely, happy that the trip started on such a happy note. Indeed, it was one trip that’s still fresh in our memories for multiple amazing experiences, packed all in just 2 days.
The other special travel and food memory was when I was on my way back from my Sandakphu trek, the first halt was at Gurdum after a 12Km downhill trek on a single day. We had informed the lodge where we would be staying overnight and we reached at about 5am in the evening. It was a 31 st night and our hearts were overwhelmed with all the beauty we have experienced in the last 4 days and also a bit upset about the oncoming end of the trek. However, overcoming all these feelings were the tiredness and hunger we all felt when we entered the lodge. But, we got to know that the lodge people have arranged only for our dinner, as we were expected to reach late in the evening. Now, in these regions, markets are not present everywhere and people go to the regional market places once a week, stock up for a few days and go to the market again after a few days. Therefore, available snack stock was limited with them. We retired to our rooms morose, waiting for dinner, which the lodge people had assured they would try to prepare soon. However, we knew it would be at least 2/3 hours for dinner. Suddenly, one girl from the lodge owner’s family came and asked us if we would prefer vegetable momos, which they had cooked for themselves. We jumped at the offer. Soon, plate full of momos came our way and we started gobbling up those. Steamed and piping hot momos, a fantastic white chutney by the side (haven’t had it ever again, possibly a specialty of the hills, and made of garlic if I remember correctly), this was an evening snack to remember all our lives. They had given an ample amount, about 8-10 pieces per person. For us, 4/5 pieces were enough but we still munched on and even asked the girl if there was more. Of course, the response was negative. They had given us a share from their evening food since we were so hungry. Such was the goodness of these simple souls of the hills and we were selfish enough to ask if there’s more. But somehow I couldn’t blame myself apart from that tiny tinge of guilt for a few moments. How could I? The taste was so amazing that it became etched in my mind as one of the forever happy memories of life and I believe it will remain so.
This is my quota of Travel and Food memories. Travel enriches us with experiences. Food gives happiness to the heart. When the two combine correctly, it becomes a perfect match and you are left with fond memories to cherish for a lifetime.