It is no secret that I love to travel, and I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit over the last couple of years. In fact, it is a running joke among my friends – every time I am going away, I am quite cryptic, and don’t reveal the destination till I am at the Airport/Station or bus stand. They have accepted me for who I am and don’t push for an answer… While I am at a destination, I have always been fond of looking for local nooks and corners to go explore local food at. I believe meeting the locals, and spending time with them is the best part of travel.
In Karaikudi, we went to a small road side shop, where the lady took us all the way back to their small home and showed us a local side dish she was cooking out in the open. They did not have a fancy stove, or utensils, and used firewood to heat up the pots. The smell wafting from the pot was amazing, it was a simple kozhambu to go with rice. A humble lunch. The best part was they were so warm and welcoming, there was a cute friendly dog there who kept us company while the dish cooked away.
Another time, during my trip to Bhubaneshwar, I had hailed an Auto the 1st day to visit the local sights. The auto-driver during the journey asked me where I was from, here is how to conversation went [it was in hindi]..
He- Where are you from didi?
Me- from Chennai
He- Ah, which part of Chennai?
Me- with a smirk, how much of Chennai do you know? I am from Kilpauk
He- nice, “I grew up near the High court. Dad had a tea stall, in fact studied there till 10th before we moved here. I know Tamil and went on to speak a few sentences in Tamil. I also have a friend there and I do hope to come back for a visit sometime.”
Me- *truly amazed at how small the world is*.. very nice to meet you…
He- would you like to come home visit my parents? They will be thrilled to meet someone from Chennai.
Me- Oh wow, yes yes..
About an hour later, after a bit of sightseeing, we got to his home. Met his parents and they insisted I have lunch with them. It was Dahi pakala, served with some pickle, salt and green chillies. His mom told me the dish was typically made in summer to keep the body cool. She was so shy and kept apologizing for not having proper cutlery. I was happily slurping away from the plate… Spent a few minutes and bid adieu, back in the auto. When he dropped me off at the hotel, he made me promise that I shall call him to go around town for the duration of my stay… he refused to take money, but I insisted and paid…
Uff, I can go on and on… Almost every trip I have been on carries one such story.. And each one is special and memorable.
During our trip to Sikkim, we stayed at this quaint homestay atop the hill, the place was run by a couple [he was an activist and into farming- a man with such energy]. The place was tucked away inside the forest and they took in guests only known to their close friends or came from known source. There were 4 rooms atop the machan [ tree house type] and the view was breathtaking. The food they served us was mind blowing. If you have been to the North east, or hills, you would have experienced what I am talking about. The ingredients used are simple, most of it is foraged, but the dishes taste so good..
The 2nd night, as part of dinner there was this spinach paneer dish- it was pungent and yumm. When I enquired was told it was fermented spinach cooked with paneer with nothing but salt and few mins on the heat. Similarly, one morning, the breakfast porridge was served with a salsa of sorts- we were all in some kind of heaven as we licked the bowls clean. They use locally available, fresh produce and know just how to bring out the best in those ingredients.
Ok, am salivating now.. time to go whip up some dinner.. More on the other side…