Flavours of the monsoon
While it rained outside, inside the homes, the warmth was exuding from the kitchens.
This week, the city woke up to the most delightful weather. It was pouring cats and dogs and the winds were gusty too. The petrichor that surrounded us was the most comforting, especially after the heatwave that the city experienced over the last couple of days. I began to plan my day’s menu around it - comfort food that I fall back on during rainy days. From the traditional kheer-pooda that is made in our Punjabi household during the first monsoon showers, to the onion and potato bhajiyas that are coated in besan and then fried to crispy perfection in mustard oil and served with a spicy chutney, to the Bengali khichuri topped with ghee and served with begun bhaja and papad, to the moorish dal vadas with coconut chutney, or a well seasoned hot dabeli or vada pav that I grew up eating during my childhood in Mumbai – your mouth waters too, doesn’t it?
While it rained outside, inside the homes, the warmth was exuding from the kitchens. Soon enough all these aromas surrounded the air of our apartment complex – the emotion was shared by every household it seems. It was a city-wide celebration. I remember reading in an article by celebrated author Krish Ashok whose book Masala Lab is one of the best scientific guides to Indian cooking, that the reason our bodies crave deep-fried food when it rains is to make up for the loss in serotonin levels that is caused by less sunlight during this phase. So, if you come to think about it then deep fried food is a nourishment that the body requires during this time.
One of the dishes that I personally crave when it begins to rain is the chana chaat that is sold in the streets of Mumbai. The chaat is a spicy medley of texture and flavours, where boiled black chana is tossed in hot butter and then topped with finely chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander, green chillies and some chaat masala and then served with a squeeze of lemon juice. Although it sounds like a dish that is easy to replicate at home, I guess what completes the experience is the view of the rough Arabian Sea in Bandstand, and the nonstop rains.
Nishit Dalal, who moved to Delhi NCR four years ago, concurs. Dalal has recently launched a cloud kitchen in Gurugram, by the name of ‘Bombay Boy in Delhi.’ As the name suggests, he is serving some delectable Mumbai fare to the Dilliwaalas. “I moved to Delhi a few years ago and missed the food I grew up eating, and so I started cooking for myself and my friends. They enjoyed the flavours so much that they pushed me to start a kitchen serving Mumbai street-food in NCR.”
Over the last couple of months Dalal has won over some clients who regularly order their food. Items like pav-bhaji, vada-pav and dabeli are the most asked for. Although keeping the season in mind he has also introduced some Mumbai monsoon favourites like kanda-bhaji, aloo-bhaji, anda-ghotala and of course, the kala chana chaat!
Another all-year-round Delhi favourite is the quintessential chole-bhature, which gets a new lease of life as the monsoons knock at the door of the National Capital. One of our city’s eternal favourites, these puffy golden bhaturas, paired with tangy and spicy chole, is comfort food to a point that it can be enjoyed any time, all day. Such is its popularity that you’d find it on carts that dot every other lane – and also in the fine dining restaurants of the city.
My favourites are from Sitaram Diwan Chand in Paharganj. Known for their chole-bhature served with a side of a spicy aloo subzi, this eatery is a legend in Delhi.While we all seek our comforts in myriad corners today, a spell of midsummer rainfall reminds you that the little joys have still not disappeared. Across every community, there is food that plays its quaint part in this joy — now, all we need is the following spell of monsoon to follow, bathing our city in lush green hues too.
Vernika Awal is a food writer who is known for her research-based articles through her blog ‘Delectable Reveries’