Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

A BEELINE FOR TAAZA TOKRI: Looking in through the glass window from the outside, (inside) quite a crush all day!

THIS DEEPAVALI

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

By Tara Narayan

I’M trying so hard to be in a happy ‘Deepavali-is-here’ mood! Never have I been so “déjà vued”! Usually happiness comes naturally to me this time of year, especially when I see and breathe in the wonderful akash neem trees along Campal promenade and in town. They are in thick, full, early season fragrant bloom and I feel like parking my bike to stand beneath one just for the pleasure of a few deep breaths and the slender silvery flowers for my handbag. Its gingery scent is so refreshing particularly in the first flush of bloom.

With the akash neem blooming, it registers that the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is on its way. It’s going to be one more IFFI for me with lots of food for the mind. Deepavali is here before IFFI and I’ve so many wonderful memories of the festival that I longer care if I don’t have another! If only I could live my life anew and were born with a crystal ball in my mouth to pre-empt life’s judgments of error!

Funny how we know many things in theory but may not put into practice for a myriad reasons. Instead of making a few sweets and savouries at home, I’ve got into the habit of going out to buy, buy, buy and then most often regret, regret, regret!

For some time now I’ve been telling myself the time has come to stop purchasing eatables, for a terrible commerce has crept into every soul. Commercially made savouries and mithai just don’t taste good any more and this is not just in the imagination of an aging mind. The savouries and sweets sold at self-help women’s group outlets at Kadamba bus depot in Panjim and the Women’s Commission at Menezes Braganza building are better, but have also become exorbitantly priced at `50 per 200g. It’s good but not as good as what grandmothers, mothers or wives prepared at home once upon a time.

Full-time stay-at-home mothers and wives are also hard to find today and I wonder if I could ever be one. In my next life perhaps. I must confess I’ve been spoilt rotten, if not by my parents at least by the hubby! A friend of mine had a husband who would throw food back at her if it was not up to his standards and if chicken, mutton or fish didn’t feature in her preparations!

I’m lucky in this respect because we’re both vegetarians at home, plus I’ve no in-laws to bother or make demands on me. We’re just a family of two. Sometimes that’s tough, sometimes okay. What’s perfect anyway? I no longer look for perfect equations in life anymore.

IN ANY case, in Goa, Deepavali is more an affair of burning Narkasur effigies than lighting oil lamps in memory of the religious mythology of Lord Ram and Co. I always think of mythology as storytelling with the addition of fanciful mirch-masala down the ages, than recorded history (and that too through whose eyes?).

Still, metaphorically speaking, as a civilisation we must fight the demons within us so good may triumph over evil. There’s a lot of evil around these days that is camouflaged / deceptive / pretentious!

Since there’s little time/energy/enthusiasm in me this Deepavali, I’ll only buy a few basics, perhaps some savoury ‘chura’ and some laddoo from one of the outlets retailing women’s home-made produce. This includes sev, cornflake / flaky chivda, Goa’s favourite ‘tikat fov’ which may be chewy hard or chewy soft, and maybe one of the laddoos – there’s quite an array now made of gram flour, wheat flour, red amaranth flour (nachni), semolina, green moong flour, white or red rice flour, etc.

I remember once savouring a pearl millet (bajra) ladoo. This is quintessential and symbolic, one of our most cherished sweets over the years. It’s hard to find organic desi ghee, jaggery-sweetened mithai in our corrupted, adulterated times of course.

In any case, most of us think it’s okay to eat fried crunchies and mithai in Vanaspati ghee (a hydrogenated or industrial fat). The problem is in our ever-so-affluent times, we grow fat and sick eating industrial snacks and sweets all the year around! I remember a time when savoury and sweet treats were rationed out only during festive occasions and one couldn’t buy them as money was too precious and nobody was selling them. In our gross times, we’re all businessmen or businesswomen!

Even the government is a like a corporate house and I dare say it’s the amount of cut-throat business we do which is killing us humans. We don’t give if there’s no taking involved in cash or in kind. We judge so minutely and often seek revenge/vengeance. We say we want to help but it’s more often a case of how I can help myself. And if the pickings are not good enough, we say goodbye in a hurry. Don’t tell me the world has always been like this depending on whose eyes we see it through.

But to go on, if you’re living in Panjim and trying to hang on to your hard-earned money, I suggest you shop at the Goa State Horticultural Corporation’s newly opened Altinho air-conditioned supermarket (next to the garden) where apples cost `108/kg and tomatoes `19/kg, most more or less at rates lower than elsewhere in the open market. Take your own bags though.

Then a friend said she prefers to go the new Taaza Tokri where fresh veggies and fruit arrive from Belgaum twice a day. “Prices are almost 50 per cent less than anywhere else! I bought bhindi at `26 while it is almost `60 in the market.” Unbelievingly, I looked up Taaza Tokri (next to Sahakar Bhandar down 18 June Road). I’m told it is run by two partners who supplied veggies and fruit to the Goa State Horticulture Corporation and one day decided they might as well retail for themselves.

Here I bought big yellow bananas at `30/dozen, French beans at `42/kg; tomatoes at `19/kg, honest apples from Kinnaur at `130/kg, onions at `14/kg, ginger at `40/kg and three drumsticks for `15, cabbage and cucumbers at `12/kg each. Well, some of it is almost half the price vis-à-vis elsewhere, although for how long it will stay so I cannot say!

As you can imagine Taaza Tokri is crowded all day for most of Panjim’s aam aadmi shops here. A few hundred rupees more or less make no difference to the khaas aadmi who shop online! As you can imagine Taaza Tokri is always a crushed affair, so go first thing in the morning at 8.30am to shop in peace.

AND one of these days if you’re looking for an agreeable vegetarian thali for lunch, check out Café Bhosle. It is priced `100 and I swear it’s the best in town. I’m told they’ve been serving a vegetarian thali for over 25 years now but I pleasantly discovered it last week and am hooked. I wish they would make their fresh curd out of pasteurised milk instead of toned milk (which is slimy), but I think I’ve fallen for it thanks to the variety of veggies, kachumbar, unusual chutney, dal, the best sol koddi I’ve come across in a thali, tandoori roti and bowl of rice. Mondays/Fridays offers a sweet something. This reminds me to note here that the non-vegetarian section upstairs serves have an irresistible tender coconut soufflé (it has egg so they don’t serve it in the vegetarian section).

This Deepavali, I think if I have nothing better to do I’ll go treat myself to the Café Bhosle thali and take the hubby if he will come (he won’t of course). So happy Deepavali!  Light an oil lamp for yourself and me, and use rice bran oil – it burns brightly and the longest.

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