Every once in a while I like to take a vacation. Correction: I need a vacation. But a busy schedule make it an almost impossible desire. Instead, I take time to “zone out.” I take these mini-holidays on any particular day and when I think I most deserve it. I leave everything behind and pretend I’m on an adventure. Anything to spice up my routine lifestyle.I wear my favourite pair of comfortable pants, put on my comfy walking shoes, and armed with a camera and a few bare necessities, I set out on an exploration.
The streets by my home are lined with vintage stores filled with pretty little things. There’s a cafe on the corner of the street that serves the best chocolate eclair I’ve ever had. As I walk down that road, filled with the hustle and bustle of people walking their dogs and moms dragging their kids from the ice-cream shop, it gives me a sense of vacationing. You know, the feeling you get when you experience a place for the first time. It’s curious how enriching it can be just to take in all the sights and sounds and see things from a new perspective. It helps me. It helps me forget deadlines, and to-do lists. It helps to open up my mind to new avenues of thinking. Some I never even knew were embedded somewhere in my head.
I walk the extra mile to a nearby lake. I turn towards my favourite bench overlooking the horizon and I enjoy my eclair. My camera captures things that I see along the way and want to keep imprinted on my mind. These also become inspiration for the rest of the week; sometimes even the month! What is most exhilarating, is the feeling of being free. It gives me a chance to see things around me in a new light.
With food, I often feel the same way too. Sometimes, you just want something different. It doesn’t have to be exotic or even back-breakingly elegant. Just different enough to take your palate on a holiday. I try and keep atleast one day of the week where I try out something different. I create or recreate a recipe from my fancy. Sometimes, it’s the ingredients that are new to me, and most times, the flavours that follow along. This dish is one such feat. With an open mind to create vegetable dishes that I would enjoy and always come back to, I decided to play around with a bunch of fresh Bok Choy I picked up a few days ago. It resulted in what has now become one of my favourite comfort dishes. Yes, it really is that good that I promise you won’t even know that NO oil was use in its creation.
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Growing up, I seldom remember a weekend where we had the house to ourselves. While few weekends were spent hosting visiting family and friends from far off places, most of our Saturday nights was spent amidst mighty morsels of succulent bites of food. My parents, like most true-blood Indians, love to shower people with their hospitality and feed them till they’re almost ready to burst. We Indians are known for our need to treat our guests with the utmost care and generosity, and one common way we all seem to achieve in doing so is through our food. Food holds a very special place in any Indian household. No festivity is complete without a table laden with colourful dishes end to end, enough to please a king. It’s no wonder that out of all the rooms in a home, many Indians take the most pride in showing you their kitchens. Truly, we love food, and our life surrounds it. Our conversations, no matter how they begin always seem to divert to the food related with the topic in question. A simple wedding announcement would automatically lead to the designing of the menu. Even meeting up with a long lost friend would be done over lunch or dinner, over food they could reminisce about.
While our meals may be laced with rich aromatic flavours, what I look forward to the most at any Indian-inspired party is the platter of appetizers. Indian hors d’oeuvres range from savoury street food, like the most loved samosas (deep fried pastry filled with potatoes) and pakodas (spiced fritters), to the ever famous tandoori tikkas (marinated meat grilled in a clay oven). They are steamed, grilled and fried. They come in various sizes and shapes, some that can be daintily picked by two fingers, and others that require a spoon and lots of napkins. No matter in what form, they each have something special to offer, and no cocktail party would regret having them.
Ask any one who has ever walked the streets of any major Indian city, be it Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore; and they will attest to the fact that no evening stroll is complete without making a stop at one of the many hawker stalls that surround every busy area in these cities. Street after street, stall after stall, you will be greeted by smiling faces and tempting plates that urge you to come and give it a try. Smothered with spicy and tangy chutneys, yogurt and tons of other fixings, each plate creates a whole new tale in your mouth. My fondest memories of my days spent in India involve sneaking out of the house on the pretext of an evening walk while I actually skipped to hawker next door and enjoyed deep fried savoury chips drowned in tangy yogurt and sweet tamarind chutney, running through the rain to buy a big batch of jalapeno fritters, and waiting in long lines to savour a bite of the best kebabs I had ever tasted on the face of this planet.
A friend recently asked me to make a list of some of my favourite food joints that I strongly feel she should try on her visit to Delhi. My response was simple: if she could stomach it, nothing beats the spicy street food.
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