Although we had a huge variety of homemade foods as kids, possibly more than many of our friends, going out to eat used to be a great treat for the simple reason of the rarity of such events. Our ‘eating out’ treats in the 60s were limited to the Udupi restaurants. We particularly loved the buttery crisp masala dosas, wadas that were crunchy on the outside and perfectly spongy and spicy inside (we hadn’t developed a taste for idlis then) and the ‘slab’ at the end (inevitably accompanied by the terrible Dad jokes about slab or slap! Sadly, we hadn’t yet learnt to roll our eyes at our parents then). Slab, I think was our own little word for the slices of ice cream, cut off a block, that were popular in those days. Our favourite slabs were vanilla and ‘tutti frutti’ (orange flavoured ice cream with candied fruit peel).
Simple but tasty and satisfying joys these, an outing like this for the four of us would set Dad back only by a few rupees! The other treat was the annual or biannual movie in the theatres. These movies had to undergo the tough scrutiny of my mother, something that would have struck more terror in the hearts of movie makers than the Indian Films Censor Board if they were to formally solicit our custom! Movie nights also had the bonus of potato chips and coke (yes, we used to get Coca Cola in those days!).
Then suddenly the choice of ‘eating out’ treats got wider- from one to two! Soon after the first human set foot on the moon (well, for the purpose of this post, let’s assume that they really made that lunar landing) a new restaurant called Apollo opened in the neighbourhood. It was as cute as a button, with stylised décor. The entrance had been designed to look like the entrance to a space ship, the ceilings were decorated with galactic motifs, the walls were adorned with prints of moon craters and Martians, the menus had a very intriguing sections like ‘countdown’ and ‘launch’ ‘escape velocity’ and ‘land’! The ultimate touch was very simple- paper serviettes folded into perfect origami rockets! How much more excitement could a eight year old ask for! The fare offered was limited and mostly north Indian and Punjabi. Chhole Bhature was our favourite no.1. The chholes were pindi style and the scrumptious and huge bhature were shaped like flying saucers. This delicious duo was served with miniature onions pickled in beetroot juice and vinegar. Apollo’s vegetable cutlets were crunchy from the outside and soft from inside and came with yummy mint chutney. The generously proportioned samosas had the tastiest filling and were clad in the most perfect and jauntily shaped pastry. The one sweet dish that more often than not lost out to our other spicy and savoury favourites was the cream sandwiches, perfectly cut, fluffy white bread triangles with a baby pink sweet cream filling.
The beverages and ice cream selection was larger, with rich milk shakes made with fresh mangoes, sapotas and apples getting our votes. We also loved digging into giant wedges of cassata ice cream on really special occasions.
Apollo was probably modelled after another restaurant in town called Havemore and for a decade or so they were imitated by many others dotted round the town. This coincided with the strategic transition of the udupi restaurants from serving mild Mysore style food to catering to the more mouth scalding and eye watering Andhra tastes, influenced by the rapid urbanisation. The udupi restaurants were slowly phased out by us folks with the timorous tastes.
As we do with all the foods we like, mother used to try making them at home and she was very good with the guessing game. I don’t remember a single recipe book at home to this day, nor did we have access to TV and the Internet in those days. But she had this uncanny ability to figure out the ingredients even after having tasted something just once. Coupled with this was her infinite enthusiasm to try out new dishes, her wide experience as a skilled cook and her never-say-die attitude to turn even a failed dish into a different success. Once, after her annual summer ritual of making sundried potato chips, she decided to make potato soup from the left over potato starch. Much to her dismay, we rejected the soup, and then much to our surprise we got delicious savoury pancakes for dinner that night. Guess what the secret ingredient was? The shunned potato soup story and many other like it have been my inspiration to do things like turning failed gulab jamun into halwa, failed rasgullas into kalakand, and many other such recycled gems. I have digressed from my Apollo story, but one of these days I will do a post on the famed family tradition of “Naulakkha” or recycling of good food (name inspired by a joke from the Pak TV drama Tanhayiaan’) .
Only a few days after we first ate at Apollo, mother surprised us (or shall I say delighted?) by making bhature at home for the first time. This was a surprise on two counts actually, because she had loved the bhature at Apollo so much that she set aside her parsimony with oil to make them at home. What’s more, they were perfectly puffed up and golden brown; their fried goodness was every inch a replication of Apollo’s bhature.
I’m happy to say my bhature aren’t bad either! My girls love them, and they usually turn out very soft and melt in your mouth. But my younger daughter, Apurva, has inherited her grandmother’s aversion to deep frying for other reasons – no matter how good the exhaust system is, everything still smells of frying for a long time after (her hair and clothes). But I was making chhole and the girls wanted to eat them with bhature. Hmmm. A bit of a fix! Then I remembered watching Sanjeev Kapoor do a baked bhature recipe on hisTV show ‘Khana Khazana’. So I scoured the interweb for it and found a very satisfying, low fat bhature recipe!
Just this morning I was chatting with my friend Irfan and said to him in Hyderabadi Hindi, “Apney khaaney piney ke din nahi rahey abhi” to which he replied, “Hau, kitna khinch ke sutatey the nai apun!”
I scaled down and adjusted Sanjeev Kapoor’s recipe to half, used dry yeast instead of fresh, doubled the quantity of poppy seeds and baked them in a very hot oven under the grill cutting down the baking time by almost half. Two next time points for myself:
- make the dough just a little more stiff so the dough would retain its shape better
- make the bhatures with atta (wholemeal wheat flour) to optimise the health benefits
- Brush the ready bhature with as much butter as your conscience will allow ☺
Irfan, I hope you are reading this.
2 cups plain flour
1 sachet dry yeast (7 gms)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsps popply seeds
¼ cup sour yoghurt
½ cup milk
Salt to taste
A little oil to knead the dough
Sieve the flour and salt in a bowl. Add dry yeast to a little warm water with sugar and keep covered till it rises. This should take only 7-8 minutes. Add the yeast solution to the flour. Add poppy seeds, yoghurt and milk as required to knead it into a soft dough, using a few drops of oil to smoothen it. Cover with a damp cloth and set the dough aside in a warm place (it is winter in Melbourne!) to ferment. Divide into 10 portions and roll them into balls. Rest the balls to allow the dough to relax. Roll each ball into an oval shape. Place the bhature in a greased baking tray (I lined the tray with baking sheet) and place them under the grill in a very hot oven. You can also bake them on bake mode. Monitor the bhature and flip them when the top gets nicely browned.
Serve hot with chhole garnished with sliced onion and chopped coriander (and of course the mandatory hot green chillies and ginger juliennes).
– Shruti Nargundkar