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A taste of India
You've heard of the big and famous on the food scene in cities and towns across India. They're written about often. But what about those little-known places, which have a five-star item on their menus? These enterprises have a religious following thanks to the expertise they have mastered in elevating one dish into a work of art. So much so that locals swear by them and will entertain no imposters. From mughlai paratha to pakoras, chicken fry to poha, khaman to thukpa, jalebi to mohinga, Team TOI-Crest went hunting for the best of the best all over India and came up with this list of must-visit isles of wonder
MATU RAM | JALEBI Gohana, Haryana
Some 52 years back, Haryana's Gohana qasbah pioneered jumbo-sized jalebis. The Gohana shop is still known by its famous offering, Matu Ram ki jalebi that weighs 250 gm each. Matu started selling these giant jalebis in 1958 at Re 1 per piece. Prepared in pure desi ghee, the jalebi stays fresh for 15 days. Now, with special packs of 10 and 20 kg available, the syrupy confection can be gifted to friends or family in the US, UK, Germany, and France.
PANCHAM PURIWALA | PURI BHAJI Opposite CST, Fort, Mumbai
Pancham Puriwala opposite Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is arguably the city's oldest puri bhaji shop. The 160-year-old eatery serves a puri bhaji made from a recipe left behind by its founder, Pancham Das Sharma who migrated to Mumbai from Agra in the late nineteenth century. While most versions of the dish have a dry potato bhaji, Pancham's serves a bhaji with a light gravy. Puris are available in plain or masala options. The shop is now run by Akshay Sharma, Das Sharma's great-great-grandson. He hasn't changed the interiors to keep up with the times - the eatery continues to be a poky place filled with both working class folk and office goers from the area.
PAI BROTHERS | FAST FOOD DOSA, 180 VARIETIES Opposite T D Temple Arch, MG Road, Kochi
Launched as a roadside shack by Purushotama Pai, an Udupi brahmin, it is now managed by his son Pradeep. The shop has trademark rights for 36 varieties of dosas. Today, its menu includes egg dosa, podi onion bulls eye dosa, duck egg masala dosa, rajeswary masala dosa, thattil kutti dosa, lehsooni dosa, podi dosa (with gun powder).
JOSHI WADEWALE | WADA PAV Near Balgandarv Rangmandir Bridge, Pune
Wada Pav is without doubt the staple fast food of the Mumbai-Pune region. A fried patty - typically prepared with boiled potatoes, gram flour, garlic flakes, ginger, and chopped onions among other ingredients - is served within a pav bun with fried green chillies and an assortment of spicy, sweet, and garlic chutneys. And Joshi Wadewale gets it right every time. The shop came into existence on October 2, 1989, and has 11 branches spread across the city.
DHODHA SWEETS | DHODHA Rani Jhansi Road, Ludhiana
Rajan Vig is the fourth generation owner of Dhodha Sweets, named after the delicacy they peddle across the world. Dhodha is a flaky pastry made of milk and its recipe is guarded as zealously as the Coca Cola formula. Harbans Vig, a nutrition-seeking wrestler from Khushab of Sargodha district (now in Pakistan), created the recipe in 1912. After Partition, the family moved to Kotkapura and later opened branches in Ludhiana.
PUL DE PAKORE | ALL KINDS OF PAKORAS Near Bhandari Bridge, Amritsar
Pul de Pakore is an iconic pakorewala in Amritsar. It's close to Bhandari Pul (bridge), hence the name. Owner Karan's father started serving the spicy fare half a century ago for 10 paise per piece. Now, he serves them for Rs 6 per piece for all types of pakoras: gobi, aloo, and methi, to name a few.
KARACHI BAKERY | FRUIT BISCUITS Mozamshahi market, Hyderabad
This is the shop that pioneered fruit biscuits in India in 1953. Made through a special technique, these biscuits, which come in various assortments and packing, are the favourite of visitors to this city of the Nizams. These are sweet biscuits but not overpoweringly so. Recently, a second outlet has been opened in Banjara Hills, but now retail stores in the city and counters at the airport stock Karachi Biscuit packets.
DAS KHAMAN HOUSE | KHAMAN Nehru Nagar, Ahmedabad
Pitamber Das Thakkar came to Surat in 1952 from Amreli looking for a job. He began to work in a farsaan store. After some months, he decided to introduce khaman ( a steamed dish made of Bengal gram flour) to the market. He started with 1. 25 kilos of chana dal on a hand cart opposite the municipal corporation building. His khaman became so popular that people called it Das khaman and the name has stuck on. Today, he has five shops in Ahmedabad run by his grandson.
BURMESE FOOD | MOHINGA Second line, Beach Road, Chennai
Rows of push carts line Second Line Beach road in Chennai's Parry's Corner. Come sundown, and vendors start cutting cabbage to go with noodles cooked in banana stem soup. Boiled eggs are added and spices sprinkled to create Burma's unofficial national dish, mohinga, served on small ceramic plates to hungry office-goers and autorickshaw drivers. Most of these carts are manned by Burmese repatriates, who fled to Tamil Nadu in the 1980s. The Burmese version has rice vermicelli cooked in fish broth with onions, garlic, ginger, lemon grass and slices of banana stems. Repatriates like Susheela, who runs a cart with her husband, have tweaked the original recipe to suit local tastes. She cooks noodles in banana stem soup with spices, and serves it with fried fish and not the traditional fried fish cake.
ANADI CABIN | MUGHLAI PARATHA S N Banerjee Road, Kolkata
If bad karma could be measured in grams, the mughlai paratha would be worth its weight in sin. It's the stuff of dieters' nightmares - mince, refined flour, eggs (preferably two), chopped onions and herbs. On the plate, it resembles a perfect square: crunchy, oily and delicious, with a plate of mutton curry as accompaniment. And in Kolkata, no one makes it better than Anadi Cabin. The small shop, with its weatherbeaten waiters, at Esplanade has been frying the most perfect mughlai parathas since the 1920s. The story goes that once a sahib walked in and said that he wanted his paratha wrapped in an omelette. And that's how the mughlai paratha was born. But why call it mughlai? Because Anadi, who started the eatery, reportedly thought the dish fit for badshahs!
SAKHARE'S RICKETY CART | POHA Kasturchand Park, Nagpur
Can a demure dish be sexed up in such a way that it acquires a cult following? In Nagpur, the supposedly sattvik poha has transmogrified into a snack with, well, attitude. And leading the charge is Rupam Sakhare, who has been dishing out his interpretation of the dish from a rickety cart at Kasturchand Park, a landmark akin to Mumbai's Azad Maidan, for over three decades. Rupam's recipe for success is a topping of unforgivingly fiery chana. At Rs 12 for a full plate and Rs 8 for half, Sakhare's poha has made him famous as well as prosperous. It is said he often vacations abroad
PENANG | PORK THUKPA Laden La Road, Darjeeling
By the time one reaches Penang - most take the steep short-cut that almost vertically juts away from the Hill Cart Road in Darjeeling - many are out of breath and panting. But once you regain composure and start ordering their pork thukpa (alternately, try their 'chhou-chhou' ), you realise the pain has been worth it. Deep-fried, clunky-crispy pieces of pork, some swimming on top, others hidden below the indescribably welcoming soup, surprise your mouth. In the cold of winter, there are few better places than this for some soul food.
RAHMANIYA'S HOTEL | KETHEL CHICKEN Chali Bazaar, Trivandrum
For 60 years now, faithfuls have been flocking to this hotel for its famous Kethel Chicken Fry, which is now a patented product. One of the oldest hotels in Kerala, this joint specialises in home-style recipes. Kethel Chicken is made with a secret blend of Kerala spices. Founded by the late Muhammed Abdul Khader, who was fondly called Kettle Sahib by his clients, the place is named after him and now run by his son Maheen.
Inputs from Shatadru Ojha, Sanjeev Ratan Singh, Harshad Pandharipande, Anantha Krishnan, Neha Madaan, and Avijit Ghosh
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