Takeaway

Après-meal

Shabnam Minwalla | Updated on February 15, 2019 Published on February 15, 2019

Centre of attraction: In Gujarati cuisine, farsan is the swashbuckling hero rather than the incidental sidekick   -  ISTOCK.COM

What many of us view as just snacks are revered as works of art in Ahmedabad

About five years ago, a travel magazine sent me to Ahmedabad with a single instruction: Go forth and eat.

So I went forth and ate. Gleefully.

I expected that I’d return with a few extra kilos. What I didn’t expect was that I’d come back home with a new-found appreciation for the finger-food of Gujarati cuisine — farsan.

Like most Mumbaikars, I’d always viewed khaman, khandvi, khakhra and their ilk as sensible snacks. Something to pop into an empty tiffin box. Something to fetch from Bhavya Stores when unexpected visitors showed up.

All it took was a 65-minute flight to change my mind. In Ahmedabad, farsan is high art. And the quest for the tangiest Dhokla sandwich, the crunchiest sev, the most flavour-packed ghugra is an obsession. As far as the average Amdavadi is concerned, these distinctive snacks are not the incidental sidekicks, but the swashbuckling heroes of Gujarati cuisine.

After three days in that city of block prints and blaring horns, I had to agree. And while I’m not sure I adore all the new innovations — of the cheese pizza dhokla and thepla quesadilla variety — I’ve realised that there’s a world of astounding farsan out there.

I’d been sent to Ahmedabad to uncover its spicy, unexpectedly diverse culinary secrets. I began my assignment with a calorific bang — keema, paya and malpua malai in a tiny Bohra eatery. Lunch was an elaborate thali laced with ghee, heaped with puris and consumed in a palatial hall. While dinner was a stand-and-grab array of tikkas, rich gravies and bara handi at Bhatiyar Gully.

I thought I’d done rather well in terms of variety and quantity — but the denizens of that gourmet’s paradise disagreed. Instead of commending me for my elastic appetite, the various cabbies, photographers, hotel managers and other opinionated Amdavadis were downright disparaging.

“You can’t leave Ahmedabad without going to Das Khaman,” they cried. “And what about fafda and patra at Gathiya Rath?”

“Raipur Bhajiya House? It’s a landmark.”

“And the chawanu near Lucky Tea. And the khandvi, sev, dhokla, samosa…”

The message was loud and clear. I could eat all the khichdi and kadhi, all the rotlis and shaaks in the world. I could sit on elegant terrace restaurants and talk to chefs about anjeer basundis and banana sherbet brightened with lime. I could announce that I was looking beyond the khakhra-and-thepla clichés. But till I’d criss-crossed the Sabarmati in my quest for the softest khaman and silkiest khandvi, I simply hadn’t lived.

I bristled a bit. After all, we Mumbaikars know our way around dhoklas and fafda. We regularly meet yellow, sponge-like cubes of khaman in transparent plastic bags, piled on the counters of grocery stores next to Bourbon biscuits and bottles of nail polish. We routinely encounter pale, buttery rolls of khandvis at children’s tea parties. And blackish-green discs of steamed patra at adult tea parties. We binge on sugary jalebis and satisfyingly salty fafdas at Swati Snacks. And we pack khakhras and theplas for our children whenever they venture out on school trips.

Even so, I succumbed to pressure. Like Hobbits and Amdavadis — I decided to consume second breakfasts, elevenses and afternoon teas for the next couple of days. So I hired a spluttering auto and know-it-all driver and — in between breakfast at a vegetarian-eggs restaurant and dinner at a famous thali restaurant — launched into a memorable food scramble.

I still think about that day with a mix of delight, regret and wistfulness. Delight because I now know what the perfect khandvi, topped with toasted sesame seeds, tastes like. Regret because I was too stuffed to make the most of the warm bhajiyas and spicy ganthiyas on offer. Wistfulness because, whenever I’m feeling peckish, I wish I could travel backwards in time to that remarkable, traffic-choked journey of discovery.

Next time I’m in Ahmedabad, I plan to skip the thalis and tikkas.

Instead I’ll do justice to the piquant, fluffy tamtam khaman (made from steamed gram flour) and the moist, tangy sandwich dhokla (made of a mix of rice and gram flour and layered with green chutney) at Das Khaman. I will certainly try the fried green khaman and sev khamani (a chaat made with khaman).

 

After which, I’ll make a beeline for the crunchy fafda (also made with gram flour, but fried) served with the addictive green chutney at Gathiya Rath. And the delicious chawanu (chivda topped with grated raw papaya and a chatpata masala) at the little stall near Lucky Tea House.

Meanwhile, in Mumbai, I’ve stopped taking the grocery-store route. Instead I trek to Dave Farsan near Babulnath Mandir, or to the little shop attached to the Walkeshwar Mandir. Or even to D — Damodar in Dadar. All of which are bus stops on the path to farsan heaven.

Shabnam Minwalla is a journalist and author. Her latest book is What Maya Saw

 

Sev Khamani

(made with ready khaman)

Ingredients

  • One cup khaman, mashed (Outside Gujarat, khaman is often confused with dhokla. Khaman is usually yellow and soft. Dhokla is usually white and firm)
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • Pinch of asafoetida
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • Salt
  • 1 tsp finely chopped green chillies
  • 2 tsp sugar

Method

  • Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add garlic paste, green chillies, asafoetida and sautée for a minute.
  • Add the khaman and mix gently. Then add milk, salt and sugar. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Top with sev and pomegranate seeds

 

Published on February 15, 2019
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