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Ecologist Debal Deb, who did his post-doctoral research from IISc in Bangalore, started his folk rice gene bank Vrihi in 1997.
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Nothing quite beats a life on the open road. The scenery changes, the people change and, above all, the food is always different, always exciting. We've seen this great country of ours and eaten more Indian regional and street food than anyone else alive today. No tall claim this, just a hard fact. It's been a whirlwind journey over five years that have just flown past. Six-eight hour drives, four to six meals a day, tight deadlines and even tighter budgets, we've had to be committed, creative, focused, self-motivated and, above all, always hungry. We can proudly say that we've managed so far. No small feat considering we've eaten almost 3, 000 different kinds of dishes from every state across the country. They've ranged from the sublime (early morning dosas at Udupi with the smell of jasmine in the air as devotees throng to Lord Krishna's temple) to the shocking (dog meat roasted over a fire along with the dreaded Naga 'King' chilly) to the unique (Raagi Muddai or ragi balls meant to be dipped into spicy grave and swallowed, not chewed) and unabashedly delicious (Meen Polichattu and appams with fresh toddy by the backwaters at Kumarakom, Kerala).
Each journey, unique and rewarding though it might have been, has taken a toll. Snatching a few hours of sleep in sometimes downright dowdy hotels in faraway places that no one ever seems to visit and then travelling as much as 800 kilometres in a day can wear down even the most optimistic of men. The one thing that kept us going has been the love and affection received from our fans. But we were feeling a little worn out all the same and so a plan was made to try and do an entire series with a section of India's population that has boundless energy, never ending optimism and a never say die attitude. The plan involved our nation's greatest asset, the young students of India.
We decided to catch up with students and see what they ate at their educational institutions - boarding schools and famous colleges - and to explore the 'addas' or the cool hangout joints they visited. Some were flush with choices of great and cheap (a very important factor for most students) food in and around their schools and colleges and others were perhaps a little less fortunate. The one thing they all had in common though was a favourite 'adda' that they frequented and that had evolved its menus and prices to suit these dedicated and consistent customers.
In our new season of Highway On My Plate on NDTV Good Times we cover thirteen of these amazing temples of education but we're only going to talk about a few here.
MOUSSE MAGIC IN MUSSOORIE
Started in 1854 as the Protestant Girls School in Cainville house in Mussoorie, two years later the school moved to its current location and in 1862 became known as The Woodstock School. It is a stunningly beautiful campus and has students and faculty from all over the world. The majority of its students are Indian and the school has got several things right. I'm not just talking about the student-driven food committee or the delicious seafood, chicken and vegetarian hamburgers we ate there with French fries, corn and a delicious orange mousse. I'm talking about the confidence and assurance we saw in its students. The school band put up a special performance during lunch and it was wonderful to see kids enjoying their music sitting in their dining hall or just relaxing in the 'Quad' (quadrangle ). Did we already mention the food was great? We'll do it again just in case. The food was great!
CHIKKI AND TARTS AT WELHAM GIRLS
We enjoyed our visit to all the institutions but one that stood out simply due to the fact that the students just loved the food in their canteen, was the Welham Girls School. The school has managed to create a truly remarkable environment for the young ladies who study here. It is a beautiful campus and meticulously maintained. To quote the school's website, "In 1957 an ageing lady decided to acquire the small estate of an erstwhile Nawab to start a boarding school for young Indian girls. There were no funds, no staff, and no school buildings. Yet Miss Oliphant refused to give up her mission. She entrusted the task of setting up and running the school to Miss Grace Mary Linnell who became the Founder-Principal. 'Nasreen', the large bungalow of Nawab Saiduzzafar, was transformed into Welham, named after a Welsh village. "
The current principal, Mrs Jyotsna Brar, took us to the kitchen for a small walkabout and we refused to leave. The school makes the best lemon tart we have ever had (or actually the best 14 lemon tarts we have ever had... we couldn't stop at one). It is also famous for its 'Senti' karhi. This karhi-chawal combo is the best loved dish at school and has always been so. Ask any Welhamite and they will tell you all about it. They also love a sandwich called the 'skandie' (short for Scandinavian) and make the most famous chikki in Dehradun. This is often made by the students for functions and is always a sellout. God knows we sneaked out as much of it as we could. If there was a prize to be given for the 'Best Loved' food in any institution, Welham Girls School would win hands down.
HUNGER PANGS AT K'NAGS, DU
What was truly special though was our favourite 'Adda', the Chachhe di Hattti or Chachhe ke Chole Bhature in Kamla Market, Delhi University. The amazing chhola-bhaturas here still draw crowds and there is always a line no matter what time you go. This is a mighty chhola bhatura indeed and you will love it. In fact we've gone back to Delhi University a few times just to partake of this legendary snack.
SAMS AND SUMS AT SRCC, DU
We also visited a few colleges including one of our favourites, the Shri Ram College of Commerce, also known popularly as SRCC, Delhi. Rocky went to this college and Mayur, who is from the adjoining Khalsa College, spent many a lazy afternoon at the canteen here. The canteen has changed a little but the menu is totally different. In addition to the samosas and bread pakoras there is now also rajma chawal, karhi chawal and everyday at least one wholesome meal at very affordable prices. So many years later the food still tastes incredible. Honestly, it's probably just ordinary but I guess it's the memories and strong associations that make it special.
The authors are hosts of 'Highway On My Plate'
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