Food Trail !! Sizzling Masala....
The sizzling Masala! food trail
This week we take you on a mouth-smacking, little India food trail that’s bound to have your taste buds yearning and your heart reminiscing over the food tenderly and deliciously prepared in your mother’s kitchen. All aboard? Let’s chow down.
One of the food capitals of the Middle East, Dubai, never ceases to intrigue with its rapidly evolving food scene and new-age restaurants popping up in every nook and cranny of the glitzy emirate. However, every desi in Dubai secretly harbours a craving to revisit the food once cooked in their mother’s kitchens! Unfortunately, the advent of commercialization and globalization has meant that the food we’re served today is so stripped of flavour that it fails to evoke nostalgia or satiate a craving for the real stuff.
Stop 1: Rangoli Restaurant, Meena Bazaar
Top picks: Pani Puri, Bhel Puri and Dahi Batata Puri
Our first challenge is the restaurant’s famous Pani Puri. These crisp, little bombs explode in your mouth almost instantly striking a perfect balance between the heat of the chilli water, tamarind and date chutney. The Bhel Puri is crunchy and comforting. It comes with a ‘kairi’ or raw mango garnish and a sprinkling of crunchy gram flour noodles or ‘sev.’ Finally, to cool down the system, there is Dahi Batata Puri with a delicately spiced potato filling and a yoghurt sauce (bursting with flavor) and freshly ground cumin.
Growing up in New Delhi, street food transports me to evenings spent giggling with friends as we fought over who would eat that last golgappa (as the Pani Puri is called in Delhi or puchka in Kolkata). Rangoli tugs at your heartstrings with an endearing effort to replicate one’s favorite comfort foods.
Stop 2: Shri Krishna Sweets, Meena Bazaar
Top picks: MysorePak, Chivda and Murukku
No desi meal is complete without dessert and the iconic sweet shop is a true reflection of our love for ‘meetha’ in all its glory.
Legend has it that when royal cook Madappa was commissioned to whip up a sweet treat fit for the King of Mysore, the Mysorepa ( or Mysore Pak) which is a heavenly concoction of pure ghee, milk and sugar in equal proportions was born. Shri Krishna carries on the legacy of this classic in style and one ambrosial nibble transports you to food heaven. The smooth gram flour coupled with the intoxicating freshness of the butter melts in the mouth to create a sinful indulgence indeed.
Next, we dig into an array of crunchy spiced peanuts, savory mixtures like Chivdaa or and the well-seasoned Chakli (or Murukku in Chennai) which is essentially a spiked savory pretzel with a hint of ajwain or carom seeds.
Stop 3: Sangeetha Restaurant, Bur Dubai
Top picks: Rava Khichdi, Pongal and Kesari
This pure-vegetarian find was one of my most loved haunts during college years in Chennai. The place which has become synonymous with distinctive taste and impeccable quality was originally a tiny family-owned eatery in Tamil Nadu back in the 80s. It’s not blood but Sambhar in our veins, said one of the owners who in a chat with me revealed how the business has seen Herculean success over the years.
A trip to the Sangeetha kitchen will have you drooling as you are enveloped with an overwhelming whiff of freshly ground spices and the waft of garlicky goodness. The chef demonstrates the meticulous precision with which the team handcrafts each Topi (hat) Dosa, Puri, Bhatura and the signature Medu Vada to perfection.
We sample some classic South Indian fare like mini idlis downed in a thick sambhar loaded with gooey vegetables and a piquant Rava Khichdi oozing with engaging flavors of seasoned white rice and green gram lentils. I devour a pot of coconut chutney and a rather inventive aubergine chutney which are the perfect accompaniment to a fulfilling thali like this one.
One of my favorites in the Mini Tiffin meal we sample is the Rava Kesari which is an amalgamation of semolina, saffron and milk with just the right amount of sugar to make the flavor of each ingredient stand out.
The coffee that follows employs a traditional Indian filter for decoction and has the right amount of froth and creaminess. I love watching our host pour it out for us in an old school South Indian tumbler placed within a ‘dabara’ bowl which is used to cool it down. Although I enjoy the stronger-than-espresso intense kick from the beverage, it might be too strong for some.
Stop 4: Chatori Galli, Bur Dubai
Top picks: Jalebi and Matka Kulfi
Chatori Galli’s jalebis are stuff of legend and we witness some of these dainty beauties being browned to perfection in front of our eyes. God, have mercy.
The lightly sugared frozen Kulfi out of a ‘matka’ or earthen pot wins extra brownie (or kulfi) points for its creamy texture.
The warm saffron and sugar infused crisp exterior of the jalebi soaked in a generous helping of Shahi Rabri was the ideal Bonne Bouche end to a satiating journey full of indulgent twists and zesty turns.
At Chatori Galli, the jalebis are refreshingly different from the sickly sweet concoctions most North Indian restaurants in Dubai offer. The highlight of the restaurant’s kulfi lies in their signature falooda or glass noodles which is succulent and adds a delightfully playful spin to the frozen delicacy. Simply delicious.
Stop 5: Sind Punjab Restaurant, Old Dubai
Top picks: Chicken Tikka, Masala Papad and Sugarcane Juice
This gem of a find has classic North India on a platter and does a mean Tandoori chicken tikka which is arguably the best in town and has residents raving about it. The freshly- squeezed sugarcane juice with a light sprinkling of a trio of lemon, ginger and rock salt will tease your taste buds ever so gently.
The Chana (or Choley) Masala has a very gratifying taste. You can’t so no to buttery Naan or the Onion Kulcha which is moist and dough-ey and not in the least bit stretchy.
One of the highlights is the little bursts of flavor on the Masala Papad which is garnished with a chunky coriander, tomato and onion salad seasoned with and chaat masala. The lightness of the lentil papad balances the stronger flavors on the menu perfectly well.