Of Camels, Horses and Craftsmen – Pushkar Mela 2012, Rajasthan

Hey gals..whats cooking…where have you both been all these last 4-5 weeks…too busy cooking and eating than to write about them here? Ha ha ha… ūüėČ So are you guys surprised to see me so soon on the blog,¬†unlike my usual self wherein I disappear for long spells??!!

Well, don’t be too surprised…it is just that I am missing a very very important event currently underway in India,¬†since the 14th Jan 2013,¬†the Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayag, Allahabad. The Maha Kumbh Mela happens once every 144 years and you are aware of the reasons why I have not yet been able to plan a visit there. Thus I am doing the next best thing of sharing tales¬†of two other countryside Melas/Fairs, that are a must-do for the offbeat traveller in India, and¬†which thankfully is an annual affair that you guys can visit in the next years.

End of Nov-2012 saw me at the famous Pushkar Mela, near Ajmer in Rajasthan. Pushkar, the sleepy, lakeside settlement boasts (albeit erroneously) of the unique honour of being the only place in the world to have a a temple  dedicated to Lord Brahma, one of the 3 gods of the all-powerful Trimurthi (Trinity of three major Gods of the Hindu religion, other two being Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva), as mentioned in the scriptures of Hindu religion.  I say erroneously since digging deeper through google, I have found evidence that there are temples dedicated solely to Lord Brahma in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even in the Angkor Vat temple complex of Cambodia. READ HERE

The Holy Pushkar Lake, at sunset, by the banks of which stand numerous temples & Snaan Ghats(Bathing Steps)

The Holy Pushkar Lake, at sunset, by the banks of which stand numerous temples & Snaan Ghats (Bathing Steps)

There are many interesting stories of why Pushkar is an important pilgrimage spot for Hindus, (READ HERE¬†& HERE) , but the tranquil nature of the place has pulled me 420Kms away from Delhi to Pushkar 5 times earlier, for reasons which were never religious! Actually, this 6th trip was to¬†experience¬†the vibrant, colorful and action-packed animal fair/mela held every year around the full moon in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik¬†(usually Nov-mid to Nov-end).¬†For centuries the tradition has been that on the auspicious day of Kartik-Poornima, lakhs of people from all over the country congregate here to take a dip in the Holy waters of the Pushkar Lake, followed by a ‘Darshan’ of Lord Brahma (worshiping of Gods) in the¬†Jagatpita Brahma Mandir.

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The Backpacker’s Food & Booze Haven in Delhi

Hi Didi/ Rinks…

It has¬†been sometime¬†I wrote to you both about my foodie adventures in Delhi…although the active exchange of recipes, stories, and getting nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ between you¬†two surely makes up for the lack of communication from me..
I was surprised to see your creations from Tal…how can Tal be so cool is what¬†I was wondering as¬†I read through your experience of extracting & making goodies like Tal Coulis, Tal Crispy fritters or how even a spoilt cake has its new avatar as¬†Cake Cookies…only one word for you both, Creativity!!!

But for somebody as lazy as me when it comes to cooking food, the thought of preparing such toughies is a scary one and currently the best I do is to haul my lazy ass to simply pick my wallet, hop onto the metro & reach any of the food-havens of Delhi.

And recently a few of my old friends joined me at a place which was a haven for¬†its multiple options¬†of foods &¬†cheap booze joints, and which used to be our hangout spot especially during our college/1st year of our jobs…Paharganj, more popularly known¬†for its¬†almost infinite range of shoestring budget hotels & proximity to New Delhi Railway Station thus enjoying the patronage of travellers & backpackers from around the world is a¬†curious mixture of the old and the new, the best and the worst of what¬†Delhi¬†has to offer.

Bazaars selling their wares & Gandhiji calling out for Peace!

Bazaars selling their wares & Gandhiji calling out for Peace!

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Iftaar Foods in Old Delhi, Jama Masjid

Hey hey hey lovely ladies…

I see you¬†both have been upto a LOT of cooking & eating & creating magic on the platters on the dining tables…and I wish while reading and going through the ‘edible’ pictures, that if only I had the Star Trek Transporters. Oh if only I could say “Beam me to Melbourne or Shantiniketan, Scotty”!! Do you remember them didi? Oh what excitement each week as we waited to watch the Star Trek TV series on our DD channel in India. Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy,Uhura, Sulu, Scotty…wow what a time it was …

But I digress. So coming back to the question you asked me Didi, as to where have I been for past few weeks, in your previous post of the Chessboard & Chessman cake for our dear nephew’s birthday. Since I didn’t want to feel left out in the ‘Food explorations’ you both have been upto, so I best made use of these weeks of the Holy month of Ramzaan with multiple visits to the Foodie Paradise of ‘Old Delhi’ or ‘Delhi-6’ or as it was once known 350years back, the city of ‘Shahjahanabad’

The streets of Old Delhi are a treat for a foodie throughout the year, especially for authentic street foods, as you both have enjoyed with me earlier. But visiting that place with friends, guests & tourists who joined our DelhiByFoot gang’s Special Iftaar Walks during Ramzan was an altogether out of the world experience! During Ramzan, world-over as the sun sets, devout muslims break their day-long fast with the Iftaar¬†foods/feast and its called the ‘time for Iftaar or Iftaari’.

And Old Delhi, especially the streets near the Jama Masjid,¬†which incidentally is the largest mosque by size in India, awakens to a slew of delectable aromas and brightly decorated markets as Muslims break their fast with Iftaar. Our first Iftaar walk in early August was a great success and many friends ‘forced’ me to do it again and again…and you know how much ‘force’ they would have used over me, before¬†I agreed to make¬†2 more¬†forays into those streets,¬†to savour these special Iftaari foods!! Evil grin ūüėČ ūüėČ

Navigating through the¬†hustle-bustle¬†of the main markets around the mosque we made our entrance into the Jama Masjid after the mandatory security checks. And were greeted by¬†a sea of humanity!¬†Small groups of people crowded around sitting-mats, laying out foods & drinks, it was a festive atmosphere, more like a ‘community’ picnic of sorts where all people had their own hamper of goodies to¬†dig into. Every evening during Ramzaan, people living in the vicinity of Jama Masjid prepare traditional delicacies at their homes or buy foods from street vendors and head out to the Jama Masjid, to eat in its gigantic courtyard.

Families, friends, shopkeepers and anybody & everybody simply get together an assortment¬†of delicacies to eat, and¬†water &¬†juices and spread it out on sitting-mats inside the courtyard of the Jama Masjid.¬†At the appointed time of Iftaar the sound of a big cracker being burst symbolically opens the¬†‘floodgates to food-salvation’ for the day-long hungry, but devout Muslim. A short 2-3 minutes¬†of a ‘duaa’ or prayer¬†and the Iftaar feasting begins in earnest.¬† And thats the typical daily routine all through¬†the nearly 30 days of Ramzaan here at Delhi’s famed Jama Masjid, or Masjid-e-Jahanuma as it was known during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan who built this grandest of mosques in the world.

For all¬†the¬†participants who joined our two DelhiByFoot Iftaar Food walks, this kind of a ‘breaking of the fast’ Iftaar ceremony inside the Jama Masjid was a first-time experience of¬†their lifes. And this whole event got all our participants excited & gushing appreciative words like, “Waah waah”, “We alone would have never ever been able to do this”, “Awsome once-in-a-life opportunity”, “Oh this is sssoooooooooo soooooo cool”, “Shaabash”, “We can’t thank you enough for this experience”¬†and on & on & on!! Another of those moments when we at DelhiByFoot feel happy that¬†the unique experiences we have created are actually helping people¬†enjoy a new ‘slice of Delhi’ they have never experienced before!

So what did we eat inside the mosque for the Iftaar? We had taken with us Mutter(Pea) Samosas, Pakodas (Fritters), Fruit Sandwiches and Kheer.

Once the ceremonial breaking of the fast was over it was time for us to hit the narrow lanes radiating out from the Jama Masjid to feast upon the numerous varieties of foods that the street vendors dish out at a rapid pace.

¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†During Ramzaan the streets are all illuminated with multi-colored bright lights everywhere, people crowd around the shops wearing brightly colored clothes and the shop-owners have a hard time keeping up with the frenetic demands of hundreds of muslims pouring out of the Jama Masjid and their houses/shops for food. The fragrant aromas from variety of¬†food-carts & shops¬†selling Biryanis, Kormas, Kebabs, Khajlas, Phirni, Sherbets, Iced-lollies, Fried savouries simply overwhelm your olfactory senses, making you drool and feel hungry for whatever you see…

Next on agenda for us was this sinfully calorie-rich Chicken, barbequed over coals, served with a special secret masala which finally is drenched in butter and served sizzling hot! In one word as one of my friends said YUMMIEST!

This¬†was followed by these crunchy pieces of Fish, which had been¬†dipped in a gram-flour batter and then deep-fried in a huge cauldron of boiling oil and¬†served straight out of the vessel¬†with a Chutney made of raw mangoes, mint leafs & yellow chilli….

This ‘hot & fiery’¬†combination left us wanting something to cool us down and we headed for the shop selling this Pink-colored Sherbet made of Iced Milk + Watermelons + RoohAfza, yes you read it right the same old Roohafza Squash made of rose petals and what not which was once a favourite cold beverage¬†during our growing-up years!!

Suitably refreshed after glasses¬†of the¬†Sherbet, we ate the slightly sweet, soft & crunchy¬†Khajlas (palm-sized, round, fluffy & flaky¬†puffed pastries made of white flour) alongwith¬†kulhars (earthen clay cups) of hot-steaming¬†milk. This milk which is a favourite amongst muslims all over has been slowly cooked over a low fire with copious¬†amounts of dry fruits like dates, almonds, pistachios, cashew nuts and¬†raisins in it. And after a whole day of fasting these are the¬†perfect ‘complete’ nourishment that any Muslim eagerly looks forward to. Some of us who did not wish to drink¬†hot-milk,¬†preferred the thick, slightly sweet chilled Lassis.

The next stop was some Biryani at Mota Pehelwaan’s shop. Followed by Goat-Meat Qorma and Chicken in a Kashmiri-style white yoghurt curry at Al Rehmani in Galli Chudi Wallan. ¬†The yoghurt curry was almost similar to¬†a Meat Goshtaba curry, which is a popular¬†dish of the¬†Kashmiri Wazwaan cuisine, albeit the Goshtaba curry is far less dense than this one was.

Next we recommend the ‘Sutli Kebabs’. A special kind of seekh (Skewer) kebab made from tenderised beef that is so soft, that a fine string is needed to hold the meat on to the skewers before roasting it on an¬†open charcoal fire, thus¬†giving it the name of Sutli (string) Kebabs. You can clearly see¬†in the pic below the thin string wound around the skewers before it is roasted to perfection¬†over the charcoal fire. You know Didi, in Kolkata there is a place which sells the same kind¬†of Sutli Kebabs, near one of the famous mosques of Kolkata. Just that¬†I have tried many times to find that place but have never been able to do so, as it must be a small shop. Maybe my picture will inspire you to search out this the next time you are in Kolkata!

No Iftaari walk can be complete without polishing off some ‘Shahi Tukda’, literally meaning ‘A Royal Piece’ which is a dessert made of¬†over-baked dry bread fried in ghee,¬†dipped in a syrupy solution of saffron & cardamom infused milk, some¬†more ghee, sprinkled with a variety of nuts, pistachios¬†& raisins and all this kept & served¬†at a piping hot temperatures maintained using a slow fire throughout the evening & night! It is really really very sweet, overflowing with calories¬†and even the die-hard foodie skips a beat before eating this goodie! Me, well¬†I never give¬†a second thought to it,¬†before gulping down 100gms of this sinful wonder! Those of us who preferred a little less of the sugary stuff, ate these brightly orange colored¬†‘Paneer jalebis’…the taste was good, but the color was suspect as maybe harmful, unfortunately.

Our final pit-stop of these 5-6 hour long ‘Food-athons’ was the old Kulfiwallas (frozen milk desserts & frozen sorbet sellers). Almost 35 different varieties of await connoisseurs of the ‘Frozen desserts’ kind, ranging from Kulfis stuffed inside whole fruits, to frozen fruit pulp & flavoured milk and slushy fruit sorbets. Our gang’s favourite was the whole mango stuffed, grapes, jaamun, paan kulfi and¬†pomegranates.

So now sisters you know where I have been, what I have been eating and for a change I can say, what you guys have missed in these past 4 weeks of exciting Ramzaan food-explorations!

Lotsa love and I sign off now with this pic of the Jama Masjid as it was lit up during Ramzaan…