GMC’s Yoo Salt & Pepper Canteen: Doing yeoman’s service but please say no no to junk food and bottled aerated drinks! Freshly made fryums like batatvada and samosa are okay and much in demand, but puff pastries, bread pakoda, confectionary, aerated bottled drinks? Menu needs re-defining in the light of a Central government circular asking hospital canteens to focus on Aarogyum menu inspired by Ayurveda values which focus on millets and other health-conscious way of presenting food for life. Welcome ragi idli/jowari idli-sambar-chutney, also besan-ka-cheela!

By Tara Narayan

THE BJP government’s new year gift to the people of India is yet another round of price hikes. My new year resolution is once again to eat less out of the house and to cook very peacefully at home the simplest of food – boiled, steamed, stir-fried, bit salt, more green and dry Mediterranean herbs, less spices…lemon juice everywhere! On one hand I’m tired of eating and on the other hand I’m wondering what to eat! A real conundrum, this one.
I already know if I want to hang on to my heart I have to say goodbye to fryums, all oils…except for a bit of olive oil or some wood-pressed or cold-pressed or ghani pressed oil of sesame or groundnut or rice bran oil (which have high boiling point and do not burn easily), for flavour nothing like mustard oil…just boil potatoes or better still steam cook ash gourd, mash, and stir in bit salt, chopped onion, mustard oil as desired, a finely chopped green chilli or green capsicum if you wish. Nice, very nice, Bengali-style. Then there is the Bengali tomato chutney of chopped tomatoes and raisins tempered with bay leaf, a teaspoon of panch poran, in mustard oil. Nice, very nice. Chopped dates may replace golden raisins. An aromatic, tangy tomato chutney to beat all chutneys…my friend Mita Sen of Kolkatta always insists on garnishing it with two sliced green chillies, seeds removed. Eat with some millet phulka or “rice.” Forget rice and wheat for the rest of the year! I also love the south Indian ginger chutney ….and Kashmiri walnut or akhrot chutney or relish. Real flavour-givers and tongue-touchers these chutneys. Since it is the winter season get some fresh golden haldi or turmeric and ivory amba haldi (mango ginger, tart flavor) and do a julienne relish laced with sea salt, lemon juice, store in bottle and eat as side life-giver. Can also make chutney of the two gingers, I haven’t tried it out, I prefer cut combo versions.
Once upon a time I used to make the Jewish relish called “halba” or “hilbe” by a Jewish sort of aunt I knew who would take me out to celebrate the Passovar at a Sophie Kelly dinner in Mumbai that was Bombay, quite a community of Baghadadi Jews here. And aunt Lulu would also make this soaked fenugreek, green coriander, garlic sauce she called “halba” – basically you soak fenugreek seeds in hot water overnight and then throw water and process it to grainy texture, adding in finely chopped green coriander, garlic, lemon juice and salt to taste. Stir, eat with crispy “matza” roti – large rounds of stone oven baked bread baked by a Jewish house somewhere near Crawford Market (if I remember right, or was it in Byculla). Anyway, I fell in love with this methi relish by way of something green to feast on. Has a piquent flavour, not bitter. Also, if you sprout fenugreek seeds or methi they are not bitter, delicious tucked in a sandwich filling. One of these days discover the Jewish halba!

AROGYUM MENU: Ragi idli. Chef Nagendra Savant of the Sodexo kitchen at the GMC also turns out the most agreeable besan-ka-cheela, protein-rich and delicious, can replace egg omlet for vegetarians and vegans! To make a besan-ka-cheela all you need is besan (gram flour or sattu), chopped onion, tomato, ajwain, bit salt, bit oil for drizzling. Arrive at a batter to turn out the cheela thick or thin, dosa or pancake style!

MY New Year resolution to begin with is to usher in all the good things back into my eating life. Which reminds me to mention here that at Sodexo’s Yoo Salt & Pepper canteen at the Goa Medical College & Hospital (where the pharmacies are located) these mornings they’re putting out pinkish ragi or nachne idli and they’re yummylicious! Good things are happening! Imagine my surprise on Monday morning when the girl here said they have ragi idli and rava idli that morning, do you want them? Of course I said yes, only sambar though, no chutney. I would say forget badly made white rice idli altogether as well as rava idli! Concentrate only ragi idli and if possible jowar idli with chutney and sambar. Good food for breakfast for patients, their attendants, visitors and GMC staff alike. It’s time to do away with badly made white idli altogether! And with the good sambar bring back a good chutney with peanuts ground in…or is it too much to ask for?
I DARE say this is happening because of PM Narendra Modi’s push to promote millets and there’s been a Central circular asking hospital canteens to be more health-conscious about what they’re putting out for patients and all those who visit hospitals and spend considerable time there. It’s very good news, indeed. I think hospital canteens have no business stocking fancy pastries and definitely not those ugly hydrogenated fat puff pastries, bread pakoda; at a stretch samosa and batatvada are better freshly made junk food and I always say the Sodexo Yoo canteen Rs33 samosa/batatvada are the most decent economical buys in Panaji (another place too which I came across recently but I’ll keep that a secret for now).
Hospital canteens are where one may really reform aam aadmi’s tastes in eating better. Please stock no junk food, no junk beverages either as in aerated suger-doped bottled drinks. If you want to eat and drink junk go look for it outside the hospital premises! One lunch time passing by the GMC’s Yoo canteen I was surprised to such nice chopped cabbage salad side helping with the vegetarian biryani and decided to buy it to take home for my lunch, telling the amused pretty young things here to “give me less biryani, more salad please!” Take more salad they chirped, nobody wants salad anyway! Maybe the cabbage can do with finer chopping, I said, do a proper coleslaw and folk will like it.
Hospital canteens could also stock up on Yacault, yogurts, soups? Ministrone soup? I’m dreaming of course. But seriously, hospital canteens should not stock industrial junk food at all. Stick to more health fresh foods (like the band of home-based vendors selling outside the hospital premises every morning from 7am to 10am)! We all know how it is the excessive eating of refined carbs, sugars and salts which are key players in the diabetes epidemic with Indians.
I like the idea of a cabbage salad coleslaw-style daily…basically julienned cabbage, carrot, celery, maybe beetroot, cucumber, capsicums, tomato, etcetera, all tossed in wee bit of agreeable fresh dressing creamy or not creamy. Nowadays I see a lot of dazzling combo salads in the market from plain classic Helman’s mayonnaise to the Veeba salads dressings, some of them are delicious, I like the garlic and carrot ones. Just a little cheers up a coleslaw sandwich, add in your own lemon juice for more freshness and flavour. It’s a pity we don’t get good sauerkraut or kimchi out here even in Goa’s upmarket stores…the branded yogurts are becoming very expensive with the Greek Epigamia berry yogurts at Rs50-Rs55 per little 90 g cups.
(Sigh) Yes, of course one may make a fresh fruit yogurt at home any day, get a starter and make your own Greek yogurt! Stir in honey, grated dates, organically cultivated strawberries, and whatever you like to visit heaven on earth. I find fruit yogurts more agreeable than vile ice-creams and kulfi and the rest of the Western or Indian desserts with a very few exceptions. Also, the favourite breakfast Goans tuck in with gusto at the Goan eateries are fresh preparations but fried affairs…even the humble Mangalore bun which I prefer to the Goan breads is now Rs20. All the sabzi portions much loved are also heavyweight fat-laden stuff…although Goans live on puri-batat bhaji spiked with green chilli and the fat fried mirsang bhoji or chilli fritters stuffed in pau or undo. I usually go for the mushroom shagoti, alsane beans or kabuli chana or what is called tomato “salad bhaji” to go with the only choice of Goan breads or fried puri. Some Goan eatery should start serving ragi phulka, that would be a wonderful healthy innovation!

WHICH reminds me. One of the GMC’s Sodexo canteen nutritionists, the charming Subhiksha Kannan introduced me to the besan cheela for patients in need of more protein and this besan cheela is so good on a good day that I’m giving it full marks to be included in a patient’s diet and especially in a senior citizen’s diet! I love it, besan cheela is deliciously agreeable. There are ways and ways of making it but it passes as a vegetarian or vegan omlet or pancake with a lot of oomph. Must find out how it is made in the Sodexo’s GMC kitchen and do it at home.
Besan cheela makes for a great vegan omlet (no eggs at all) and is protein rich (remember besan is gram flour or “sattu” on which all of Bihar survives and sattu is what goes into the protein-rich sattu shakes now being served up in modern gym and physiotherapy outlets). A besan cheela can be full of flavour with finely chopped onion-tomato mixed in before the batter is ladled out to cook at fairly thin but not too thin burnt besan cheela! Call it savoury pancake or omlet or dosa, no, just call it besan ka cheela with a quintessential rustic touch to it. I love it, not at all oily the way the GMC’s Sodexo canteen makes it. Must get the recipe from Subhiksha! It’s more steam-cooked than shallow fried. Stuff besan cheela in a sandwich with the rest of the salad stuff and take a bite…to live for definitely.
Well, I think even the patients would prefer them to rice or bread. May be it will happen, now that on a good morning the GMC patients get ragi idli. It’s worth being a patient just for this treat! Perhaps golden turmeric milk will be next on the menu, that is if the powers-that-be are seriously thinking more health-generating hospital food all the way.

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