Monsoon time temptations… hot-fried savoury bhoji or fritters. (Right) Beverages making a splash in the lives of the health conscious… kombucha tea and fruit flavoured kefir shakes in pretty glass bottles
BY TARA NARAYAN
Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column
UNDOUBTEDLY rainy days are for fasting and drinking soups flavourfully thin or thick…although for most folk it’s the time to freak out on fryums like pakoda or pakode (plural form), our deep-fried fritters of one kind or another. In India every state has its pakode beginning with the quintessential batatvada (would you call that a pakoda, I would). But I like my batatvada thin-batter coated and crispy with a lot of savoury herb-enriched potato mash within, the pakoda to be dipped in green mint chutney and savoured while listening to the drumbeat of the falling rain around me.
Which reminds me I must tell you the pale ivory fine coconut chutney they serve with their bhajia/pakode or fritters of onion and potato at my favourite evening tea-time places of Café Real, Café Tato and Café Bhonsale is delicious — don’t know about you, but if I could buy this chutney or sauce (marginally different from café to café) I would buy it to use atop anything to make it come alive at eating time! My favorite chutney will have a wee garlic kick in it. Goa’s really thinly sliced onion or potato or breadfruit kapam are hard to find, ask for them though and maybe you may get them (the ones at Bassera are pretty good).
Like I said, everybody these days is talking pakode or bhoji and these may be of tubers like potato, sweet potato, yam, or aubergine, cauliflower, a pocketful of chopped mixed greens laced into a spiced up gram flour batter….the one which takes away my breath every time is the whole leaf palak or spinach leaf bhajia, real skill is needed to make these. They must be like golden tempura-styled beauties. The Japanese tempura fritters come in several vegetables and are a lot milder in flavour because the batter is different…they are translucently light affairs with a fine crunch so veggie’s flavour bursts through delectably, one may dip tempura beauties in a chili-garlic sauce if desired. But it’s hard to find perfect tempura upmarket and definitely never downmarket. Forget fryums.
BUT for some reason everybody talks food on rainy days and rainy day food talk is everywhere these days, at least in my circle of friends, be it on social media or outside social media! Says a friend she has switched over to feeding herself with soups and garlic-smeared jowar and ragi roti this monsoon and I asked what, where on earth are you getting jowar and ragi (or nachni) roti in the marketplace?
She smirked, “My Kannadigga maid used to make them for me but she’s gone back to her village in Karnataka and now I’m buying the roti from Kini Super Market at the Caranzalem circle, they’ve started storing jowar and ragi roti along with the regular wheat flour chappati and thepla (the last of Gujarati fame, these golden hued masala shallow fried roti are usually masala spiced and have an ajwain flavour to better digest them, both ajwain seeds and ajwain leaves have digestive properties, use them judiciously in your cooking)….store bought roti however is getting more and more expensive because everybody wants to buy rather than waste time making them at home!”
The friend also further enlightened me that she is paying
20 per pair of jowar or nachne roti, “I prefer jowar to nachne!” Of course, it would be nice if the Guju thepla came with a tablespoon full of Guju mango chunda or sweet lime pickle but it doesn’t….if the price goes up any further I will stop buying them!”
And so went our mundane chatter for a while, discussing easy food fixes for the monsoon time. I told her the thepla packet at Mithai Mandir are superb and not so oily and a lot more value for money at50 per packet of six or seven thepla if I remember right. Do you know that whatever food items you prepare at home and market on an ad hoc basis at local outlets ….you don’t have to pay any taxes? What bothers me is that all these ghargute fresh or fryum foodie item numbers all come packed in itsy bitsy plastics and so contribute to our mountainous plastic garbage, you must know by now that nano level plastics make their way into the stomach of cows, fish….all innocent animal life on earth.
Plastic is man-made poison which comes along with all our industrial and non-industrial foods. Really making us a killer species if you want to think about it and do something to clean up your act in whatever small way. Hey, I’m no saint but I try not to buy food in plastics and when I do I must confess miserably that I feel guilty; and this is to say I have re-started making thepla at home when someone asks for them and refuses to eat store-bought ones!
GOA is going more and more organic if not eco-friendly too in its packaging of organic food and beverages. Organic has arrived and most folk I know are buying organically cultivated veggies, fruit, cereals, beverages…and I almost looked twice to check when I saw these large bottles of kombucha tea beverages at the Caculo Mall’s Magson’s outlet recently. Both claim to be probiotic beverages selling in large pet plastic bottle.
Hey, kombucha is now big-time abroad with everyone in the know opting for it! Kombucha’s health claim is that it is a probiotic beverage full of antioxidants, aids digestion, good for your microbiome! Can make it at home if you wish with sugar, water, black or green tea and scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) one may buy online or from a friend “petting” a mother kombucha offering up babies abundantly.
Good kombucha beverage is said to be on par with other fermented super health foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, some pickles, kimchi…and kombucha. Tiresome to make at home though. You have to steep tea and sugar in boiled water, cool before adding scoby, cover and let ferment for a week at least, add extra sugar, keep some more till it acquires a fizzy life…add spices or fruit if you wish. The story is that the longer it stays, the more it ferments, the more alcoholic it becomes! You have to drink it at just right more or less mildly sour stage, before it turns alcoholic or acetic.
I’M REFUSING to buy kombucha if it comes in plastic bottles! But I picked up this most refreshing come lately Natural Mango Kombucha called “Borecha” from the OMO organic store at Latin Quarters Fontainhas last week — it is absolutely drinkable, `100 per little 200 ml glass bottle. It’s being manufactured and bottled by Latambarcem Brewers at Nanoda, Bicholim, in Goa. Pretty neat private initiative. Copy on bottle says, “Due to fermentation, this product contains a naturally occurring effervescence. Please open carefully.” Well, if you’re into alternate healthy beverages check this out!
I must tell you though that High Country Kombucha company out in Colorado (Rocky Mountains of USA) has got into trouble because of the alcohol content in their line of kombucha production…reportedly, kombucha raked in half-a-billion dollar business in the US last year! They are marketing kombucha in ginger and lime, green tea, black chia, blue berry, etc. Sounds exciting.
AS for kefir, I’ve written about it here before. Call it the European or Caucasian/Russian version of our home made dahi or yogurt — it’s said to have a healthier bacterial culture vis-à-vis our dairy lactic acid culture. One may make kefir buttermilk and market it! (Sigh) I had kefir culture one time and relished my kefir curd over weeks, then it got mixed up with my dairy milk curd and I lost the original kefir culture. Must get it afresh from someone who’s only nurturing kefir. Kefir has more interesting flavours and more good gut bacteria.