A Taste of Week-end Gastronomy
A Taste of Week-end Gastronomy
It’s that time of the week when the kitchen throws the ladles up in the air and screams, “Give me a break!” I love this time. It means ‘change’. What’s a weekend if not garnished with the right delicacies to cater to a discerning palate, especially if it has lived off a pathetic lunch box for 5 full days!
We are usually not a family of early risers. But this Saturday morning, like most weekend mornings, the household stirred from its slumber even as the church bell nearby gonged six times. My hubby and I got dressed faster than we usually do on work days. Today, we couldn’t afford to be late. Disaster would prevail. We had a mission to accomplish. Our neighbours were in the know – requisite information had been gathered from them last night itself.
As we bid farewell to the family, they wished us good luck, and urged us with great fervour to return as heroes, to return successful! We promised to call them as soon as we knew victory was on our side.
The drive to the destination at that early hour on Saturday was a 10-minute breeze. As has been the practice for over a dozen years, the discussion during the 10-minute ride always revolved around gastronomical delights…particularly the one that we were about to conquer! My hubby would delve in to flashback – to the good ol’ days when food cravings would be instantly gratified by an always-ready-to-please chef mom. In the initial days, I would react like an enfant terrible to these uncalled for ballads of praise. I would vehemently justify my dal-chaval-roti-sabzi offerings to the family, with the all-pervading excuse of being a working woman. But, soon I realised that my hubby’s sonata on his mom was simply to build up a ravenous appetite for what would soon be tucked neatly into our paunches. I learnt to whet my appetite with these inconsequential snippets from the past.
Pulses raced as my hubby manoeuvred the car into the lane leading up to the target. We were there! We craned our necks to scan the coast. “I see four guys,” I warned, even as hubby dear counted out the currency notes in his hand – victory always favoured the ones who tendered exact change. “Not bad,” he said as he brought the car to a halt and cranked open the door. “Half an hour or so,” he said getting out.
I sat in the car, my attention focused a few meters ahead down the road, on the small narrow alley that hyphenated two shops.
Hardly a few minutes had elapsed when I turned to take in the current status. The four guys had been joined by six others, one of whom was my hubby. He waved out to me reassuringly. I smile back apprehensively. One can never say…I sighed. Even as I did that, a couple of other burly looking men got off a scooter and joined him. As if they were the front pieces of a VIP procession, a car came to a halt behind the scooter. Now four, again burly men, got off, speaking in loud tones. My window glass was up so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. But, I could say with a certainty that only hardcore experience brings on that today the conquest was a formidable challenge.
I looked at my watch. The countdown begins…I said to myself between gasps. My eyes once again were trained on the narrow alley. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and …I…I sighted it!!
The man marched out of the alley, his palms upturned on his shoulders. Precariously perched on each palm, on a sheet of newspaper were twin deep-fried towers of sin. The Pakwaan – the king of Sindhi breakfast spread! Each tower easily comprised at least 50 pakwaans. But, let this number not cheat you into dropping your guard. Trust me, they vanish before you can say the shortest Sindhi word – “Sain” (it has a nasal drone, hence the ‘n’ for all you spell bees reading this).
Mission sighted, with a flushed face, I turned to the action behind. As expected, the sighting had triggered considerable pell-mell. A rush of testosterone swept the 25 or more men who now struggled to form a serpentine line outside a non-descript shop. I now lowered the window for a clearer view.
It always worked to clock wise precision. The minute the towers reached the shop awning, the line disintegrated into splinters…moving aside reverently to let the Guru of Gourmet, pass through. I almost always visualised people on either side of the towers folding their hands and bowing their heads in surrender to the delectable devil. Jai Jhulelal!
This commotion had a soundtrack – that of the shop shutter riding up clumsily. The lad responsible for this orchestra, threw a royal glance at the milling crowd, raised his palm in a gesture of blessing and magnanimously promised, “sab ni khe milando,” (“everybody would get their deserved piece”). The men nodded at each other and politely echoed, “sab ni khe milando, sab ni khe milando.” The amazing thing is that the crowd had non-Sindhis as well… but the phrase they uttered here was obviously the effect of mass hysteria and many week-ends of tireless exposure.
If the Pakwaan is king, then his spicy, hot, matured consort – the dal – was boiling over erotically in a huge hindoleum vessel that appeared on the scene as the shutter went up. Instantly, the episode took on an exquisite aroma. Our olfactory nerves were ambushed by the freshly ground spices as they swam in a pool of tamarind pulp that frothed with the distinct flavours of the three lentils that make up the exotic concoction. The hapless men in the line closed their eyes and took in a deep breath. Divine!
My ringing cell phone startled my culinary escapade.
“Hello mom, what’s the scene?” my son wanted to know.
“Papa is fifth in the line,” I updated him in a whisper, fearing an evil eye that would suddenly push hubby to the end of the line. The thought was appalling!
“Oh! OK,” son whispered back.
If you didn’t know it already, whispers are contagious. (Try it out later…now please read on!)
“Let me know as soon as…” my son was saying. But, I hung up. How many times I tell him not to count his chickens before they hatch. But these kids…huh!
My neck was bearing the brunt. I reluctantly turned away and found meek satisfaction in the not-so-clear rear view mirror. I could see my hubby’s hand. It was stretched over the heads of two others. After what seemed like eons, I saw two loaded white polythene bags hanging in the air, above a sea of pates. I watched with bated breath as my husband’s fingers curled tightly like a noose around the bags.
I reached for my cell phone. “Got it!” I screamed gleefully into the phone, and heard my son gleefully announce “Got it!” to the household.
All along the drive back, hubby waxed eloquent on his conquest. I am a result-oriented person, the end matters, not the means. I glanced at the bags sitting neatly on the back seat. “Step on it, man”, I screamed impatiently as my hubby drove lazily through the streets, reconstructing the battlefield in his most lucid vocabulary.
The table at home was already laid out with the relevant cutlery! I didn’t have to give any prior instructions, repeatedly! This rare streak of voluntary sharing of home chores…okay let me leave this issue for another blog. Don’t want to spoil my upbeat mood.
We began to sort out the spoils – 9 pakwaans for us (2 each for the 4 of us and one for the girl who helps me with my dal-chaval-sabzi-roti), 3 each for the two neighbours. The dal was already packed in 3 separate portions. What needed to be apportioned was the accompaniment – sliced onion, bright green chutney that had the sharp aroma of green chillies, sweet date and tamarind chutney, and tangy lemon wedges. This is a sticky situation. How much to give away to the neighbours? After a round of combat – take away some from this, no, no, reduce this, that should be enough for them… and after doubly ascertaining that we had a generous helping to ourselves, I stepped out with the neighbours’ share. On such mornings, my neighbours and I shared an unwritten protocol. No exchange of pleasantries. Ring bell twice in quick succession, smile, hand over parcel, and retreat quickly. No hard feelings.
For the next half hour, the household reverberated with the crunchy sound of pakwaans as we broke them into bite-sized portions, dipped them into the thick dal that was tastefully garnished with the accompaniment, and transported them into eager mouths.
This heavenly, yet very simplistic, no-fuss delicacy can make any American or Australian Master Chef wobble like weak jelly on a saucer!
As I lick off the remnants of what had been gastronomically an invaluable lip-smacking experience, I mentally salute the unsung master chefs who dish out their hors d’oeuvres in the dark by-lanes of the colossal cauldron of culinary marvel that is India! My India!!