India’s youngest celebrity chef, TV host, anchor and food columnist, Chef Saransh Goila makes you travel across India with the launch of his debut book – India On My Platter. A combination of travel stories, recipes, food tales, adventures and fun experiences, it is more like a food travelogue than another run-of-the-mill recipe book. Upon being asked to describe the book in one word, Chef Saransh instantly said, ‘Different!’ A 20,000 km-journey spanning 60 cities and 25 states in 100 days all through India made him realize how diverse and beautiful our country truly is. ‘From a roadside truck shop to India’s biggest omelette centre to a kitchen in Kullu – this once in a lifetime opportunity made me cover it all. In fact it is not just a chef’s but a boy’s spiritual journey,’ he further added.
Read on as Chef Saransh shares some interesting anecdotes, his most treasured memories, different kinds of people he came across and more from his road trip.
1) Name 5 unusual dishes you tried during your journey
– Kodra Ki Roti in Kullu:
In a small village in Kullu, there were six dishes on the menu. Kodra (type of local millet) ki roti, jaatu rice, kaathu (local spinach preparation), bhalle (yellow lentil dumplings), siddu (local buns stuffed with lentils) and rajma (kidney beans). There were a few accompaniments like locally produced cow ghee and fern pickle. The food was slow-cooked over wood-fire.
– Fish Outenga in Assam:
Fish Outenga, which was river fish cooked with a vegetable particular to Assam, called outenga or elephant apple. It was a very simple recipe that used freshly pound turmeric, which closely resembled ginger. On tasting the recipe, I realized it reminded me of raw mango that had been cooked in a curry.
– Badam Ki Jaali in Hyderabad:
Badam means almonds and jaali means an ornamental lattice net. The design of the almond paste dough resembles the carved stone windows of the Nizam’s old palaces. These almond burfis, with old Mughal designs, were being made by two very dynamic ladies. The older of the two, Nafees, was carrying forward an old recipe, given to her many years ago by her mother- in-law.
– Dal in Vishakhapatnam:
My favourite dish in Vishakhapatnam, among the many, was the dal, which had gongura leaves in it. The leaves are like wild spinach and are from the hibiscus family. They are slightly tangy and bitter. Gongura chutney is now popular all over India. The North Indians like making dal palak, similar to dal gongura in Andhra.
– Sunga Kukura in Assam:
Chicken cooked in a hollow bamboo, also called Sunga Kukura. The chicken is marinated with fresh turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander, fermented bamboo shoot water, and fermented bamboo shoots and is then stuffed into the bamboo shoot and sealed using a fresh turmeric leaf. The shoot is then put in the fire, standing up, to cook for about 40 minutes.
2) Tell us a ‘Saransh Goila’ version of a few dishes you tried and would want to experiment with
– Beetroot Halwa was one of the most amazing desserts that I had on the journey and I would present it in a slightly prettier format. ”Beetroot Halwa quenelles on Saffron toast with pistachip rabri and chocolate almonds.”
– Learnt the traditional Biryani in Hyderabad. Just so vegetarians don’t feel left out, I created the ”Gobhi Mussalam Biryani.” A medium sized cauliflower gives it that weight a vegetarian would appreciate. Also yum!
– Kheer was amazing in Karnal – made with fresh milk from cows. My favourite ingredient is Chocolate – so I made a ”Chocolate Kheer” out of it.
– ”Kuliya ki Chaat” – A popular chaat in UP is a very innovative dish. These are vegetable and fruit buckets that are stuffed with fruits and lemon juice. I chose to stuff it with my version of chaat and take it a notch above.
3) Can you tell us about the different kinds of people you came across
India changes every 200 kms. People, food, language, festivals, fashion and more – every aspect is unique. To recall a few –
– I made my way to the house of Nawab Masood Mir Abdullah, last of the Nawabi lineage of Awadh, who had invited me to celebrate Bakra Eid with him. Nawab Abdullah was present in his house with his brother Nawab Jafar. With their typical Lakhnavi accent (a mix of Hindi and Urdu), they explained the reason behind the celebration of Bakra Eid to me. They were also dressed in chikan-embroidered kurtas for the occasion, with the customary taquiyah (an Urdu word for short-rounded skullcap) on their head.
– I met this incredible entrepreneur with a mobile kitchen who would wait every day for passers-by to get stuck in a jam at Rohtang Pass (en route to Leh). His mobile kitchen comprised of Indian chaat items like matra kulcha and more. He would sell 100 plates in a day just because of the traffic jam. It does need some business acumen and guts to do this! He has served food to people from at least 50 countries. Upon being asked about his venture, he said, ‘Sahab, I’ve served everyone, from Amreeka to Dilli and I feel blessed and thank God every day for this opportunity.’
– I met the fourth generation of Pandit Raja ki Mashoor Thandai. This gentleman had quite a formidable personality. Vinod Kumar Tripathi, a.k.a. Raja, literally meaning king in Hindi, met me at the front of the shop to introduce me to thandai. Before we could even begin the conversation, he said, the who’s who of the country had visited his shop.
– I wanted to know more about the culture of Puducherry and the people who lived there. That is how I met Kasha, at Surcoufe Street. It was a store with an attached café, run by local women and owned by an American lady called Kasha, who had settled in Puducherry nine years ago. The store sold handicrafts, jewellery and clothes, all made by local craftsmen and artisans.
– En route to Karnal, I got off the car and spoke to one of the truck drivers named Kartar Singh. He was wearing an old blue T-shirt and a lungi (sarong-like garment wrapped around the waist and extending to the ankles, usually worn by men) and with his curly hair and messy beard looked every bit like a regular truck driver. Kartar Singh explained that he was usually away from home for 11 months. Because of his job, he considered the roads his real home. After I had a word with him, Kartar immediately and very generously, offered to cook dal and rice for me.
4) What about the different cultures and traditions you came across
Like people this list is a long one too. Few of the special ones I can count on my fingertips are these –
In Sikkim – The most popular tribes are the Lepcha, the Sikkimese and Nepalese. I feel that one of the best ways to explore a culture is by attending a wedding and taking part in the ceremonies. Most of us have been to a Hindu, Muslim or even a Christian wedding, but attending a wedding in Sikkim is a rare affair. I had the pleasure of being invited to a khim gyapa, a Bhutia wedding. One of the main communities of Sikkim, the Bhutias are a matriarchal society. So, while I was at the residence of the bride, the groom arrived laden with gifts for the girl’s family. The boy’s family was greeted with silk scarves called kharas. Two kilograms of pork, a bottle of wine and cookies made of rice powder called zhedro were presented to the bride. I realized how food was such an important catalyst for cultures to express emotions and to celebrate special occasions.
– Jammu & Kashmir:
Jammu has a sizeable Dogri population and they are known for their cuisine, which has a distinct taste with local flavours. Mr. Mangotra, who has lived in Jammu all his life, had invited me to taste and learn the basics of Dogri cuisine. He explained, ‘The Dogris inhabit the hilly tract bounding the mountains of the Kashmir Valley on the south and extends to the plains of Punjab. They are descendants of the Aryan race and speak the Dogri language, a mixture of Sanskrit, Punjabi and Persian, whose origin goes back to the Indo-Aryan branch of Sanskrit.’ He also mentioned that Dogri people are fond of singing folk songs and are passionate about their art, culture and food.
In Kashmir (at Javed Bhai’s house – our host) I sat down on the floor with a group of four men – each facing the other. While explaining to us about Wazwan, Javed said, ‘Wazwan is a unique concept in which “waz” means the chef who has rare culinary skills passed on to him through generations. He is an artist who is passionately involved with his art and carries the great Kashmiri tradition within him, and “wan” is a shop with the abundant supplies of meats and delicacies.’ These meats are then used for detailed preparation of delicacies and presented traditionally to showcase the charm and nobility of Kashmiri cuisine. This meal is served on a big copper plate called trami containing the steamed rice on which the varieties of meat, that include methi korma, seekh kebab, tabakh maaz, zafrani murgh and daniphul, are beautifully placed dividing the trami into four, so that four people can eat from one plate itself to enhance the bond of brotherhood.
5) Traveling, they say, is the best teacher. Is there anything you learnt during these 100 days?
After traveling for 100 days by road and covering as many cities all over India, meeting different people and exploring local cuisines and recipes was not an easy job – but it definitely was a wonderful one. As I documented the diversity of Indian food and its regional cuisine, I had noticed that it changed every 200 kms. There is so much the world doesn’t know about India and its food, the whole idea of writing this book was a daunting thought. I now urge people to choose Varanasi before Venice, or Gujarat before Geneva, the next time they plan their holidays!
On the personal front, I realized that at the end of the day we are all simple people. We appreciate gestures that are human and basic. I also learnt that food is not a luxury, it is still a necessity but we just love it a little more now.