Posts Tagged ‘rasam’

With every increasing trip, my love for Mumbai was taking on gargantuan proportions. But sadly every one of those trips lasted at the most, a couple of days. But there was one trip I’ll never forget. This one lasted a good 10 days.

It was my fifth time in Mumbai. I had arrived to work on some `priority’ advertising campaigns for my Mumbai branch. I was put up in a decent hotel in Dadar and everyday I would take a cab to my office in Churchgate. And soon work began. For breakfast I would have Dal-rotis. For lunch I would have Dal-rotis. And in the nights, Dal-rotis. If my mood swung left, it would be Biriyani and if it swung right, it would be fried rice. I had to swallow these with a strange rigidity; because none of the restaurants offered the cuisine that I liked the most – Sambar, Rasam and Curd Rice. Or in more simple terms, the good old South Indian meal. And Mumbai being a place of distances, I couldn’t see myself traveling ten to fifteen kilometers, just to have Idlis and Dosas for breakfast. And Sambar, Rasam and Curd Rice for lunch. So I had to make do with Dal-rotis, as I despised the bread varieties in the mornings. I needed something nice and spicy to break my fast. And all that was available in good old Dadar was Dal-roti.

By the end of the third day, I was fed up. I couldn’t take it anymore. And my colleagues were amused to see me getting annoyed over a plate of food, everyday. It was fine for them to be amused over my precarious situation, but would they
live on Sambar, Rasam or Curd Rice if and when they came to Chennai, Bangalore or a maybe Cochin or Trivandrum? The answer would be a big NO!

So on the fourth afternoon, I had made up my mind that I would pull out all stops and travel to the very end of Mumbai, if required, to get my Sambar, Rasam and Curd Rice. Just then one kind soul in the office, told me that there was
this restaurant close to Eros Cinema that was offering `Thalis’ (meals). The very mention of `Thali’ and a different kind of creative juice flowed out of my gaping jaws. And in no time, it overflowed. And before it could flood the office and swamp the streets, I jogged to the restaurant this kind soul told me about.

There was a black board pitched outside the restaurant, with white plastic letters that shouted out in thick round fonts.
“Vegetarian Thalis” – Rs. 90/-.
“Non-Vegetarian Thalis” – Rs 110/-.
My heart sank looking at the price. But my spirits lifted me almost immediately and I heard my conscience crying out.
“Damn the price. Go have some Sambar Rice.”

So as I trudged in, all the stewards and waiters exchanged curious glances. I wondered why. And when I went to wash my hands in the wash basin and looked up at the mirror above, did I realize why they were continuously exchanging those
`curious’ glances. My face was radiating a light that would send the mighty `Sun’ into hiding. And my face had also developed a fabulous smile that was as long as the River Nile.

I sat down at a corner table. Soon a tie-flapping, nose-twitching, hungry-looking steward appeared next to me. I ordered for a “Thali” and asked him to get it real quick.
“Sir, it would take 10 minutes” he said.
“Areh Baba! I have a plane to catch, thoda jaldi lao na” I cried.
I was lying. There was no plane to catch. It was just that I was desperate for good old Sambar, Rasam and Curd Rice. In three minutes the tie-flapping, nose-twitching, hungry-looking steward accompanied by a sad-looking, eye-popping, gelled-haired waiter announced their arrival at my table. They set the `Thali’ in front of me and disappeared.

There was an array of dishes. From Dals and Currys to something that looked like Sambar and Curds. Then I attacked with all five fingers. They dived in just like the Spring Board Diving event at the Olympics. My taste buds were in for a rude
shock. The dish that looked like Sambar tasted `sweeeeeeet’. Would you believe that? I was jolted. Then I checked the other dishes by putting a spoonful from each bowl into my mouth. Every dish that lay spread out before me tasted
`sweet’. I thought somebody had played a prank. I could see my face turning beetroot red. There was smoke coming out of my ears. I wanted to scream. But I held myself, and beckoned the steward. The tie-flapping, nose-twitching,
hungry-looking steward, flew to my side, saw my beetroot red profile and bowing low, almost kissing the carpet, asked me with a politeness that I had never heard before.

“Anything wrong Sir?”
“Why is everything so sweet? Where is my South Indian Thali?” I blurted out.
“Sir! This is Gujarati Thali, not South Indian!”

I ran from the restaurant, totally defeated. What kind of a cosmopolitan city was this? How could Mumbai not have a single restaurant that offered decent South Indian meals? For the first time I hated Mumbai!

So I went back to the office. The kind soul, who had told me about this restaurant offering “Thalis”, wasn’t around. I think he was really lucky not to be there. Then one of the Art Directors told me about Hotel Kamat at Colaba. She said that Kamat definitely offered South Indian food. For the first time I could vouch for that. Because there were quite a few Kamats in the city I lived. So I confidently took a Cab, reached Hotel Kamat at Colaba only to find that “Thalis” were `over’ and that only light `eats’ were available. I looked at the menu and ordered for a “Sambar Vada”. I was starving. In five minutes the hot-hot “Sambar Vada” arrived – a steel bowl containing two round cakes made from rice flour and dal batter, fried in oil and soaked in Sambar. My hair stood up and I could not believe it. The Sambar Vada was sweet, sweet and sweeter than sugar. Was it yet another Gujarati concoction? Or were all these restaurants being run by Gujaratis and Gujaratis alone? Now I was really beginning to hate Mumbai.

That same evening, a colleague of mine Ganesh Iyer, seeing me suffer promised to bring me food from his house the next day. Being a Tamil Iyer, I knew that this was going to be a feast. I told him: “Drumstick Sambar, Potato Curry, Tomato Rasam, and Bagala Bath (Curd Rice)” were my favourites”. But to my shock, he did not turn up the next day. I was aghast and heart-broken. And I sulked to a corner just like a puppy would after getting a thrashing from his master.

Then at one in the afternoon, a fleet of creative and media guys descended from the office and set out to the Fort area nearby, to have lunch. And in no time I saw my feet being dragged along too. I had no other choice. Just as they trooped
into a restaurant close to Sterling cinema – that offered continental cuisine – I stopped outside the restaurant and asked the Security Guard, if there were any South Indian restaurants around. He immediately told me there was one “Madras
Hotel” a few minutes away and gave me the directions.

My eyes lit up and my appetite hastened back. I felt like a Tiger waiting to spring on a lonely Gazelle. I started to walk briskly. Then started trotting. Then jogging. Then running. Then flying. I was panting profusely when I screeched to a halt outside a small hotel with a faded blue colored board that said “Madras Hotel”. I galloped in and sat down. It was a small place. And giving me company were cab drivers, auto drivers and small businessmen. Who cared of what company I kept! All I knew was that my poor stomach was in the need of some spicy company. And all I needed was a good meal, full of Sambar, Rasam and Curd rice. I ordered for a plate, then another, then another and another and yet another, leaving the waiters and the cashier gasping for breath. It was the best meal – or meals – of my life. Meals that numbered five. On day
number five. During my visit number five. I loved Mumbai.

With my stomach full and the colour back on my face, I hummed, whistled and slowly trudged back to my office at Churchgate. I never knew, that a bellyful of fabulous Sambar, Rasam and Curd Rice would make so happy. I walked up the
stairs, ambled into the office and sank into my seat. I was drowsy. Then I turned and glanced at my desk. I found a big Stainless Steel Tiffin carrier parked on the table. Somebody tapped me on my shoulder. I turned. It was Ganesh

“Sorry! I am late” he said. “I have brought you your favorite Drumstick Sambar, Potato Curry, Tomato Rasam, and Bagala Bath (Curd Rice). Go ahead, have a feast!”

Copyright © 2003 by Narayanan G. Vincent -All rights reserved.


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