For the love of alu-chura….

I love street food, be it vada pav,  ragra patties, bhel puri  or my favourite  pani puri or puchka as we call it.  These are fares you get everywhere  in India, but there is another street food that I love to gorge on, something unique to the hills, Alu -Chura , which literally means potato and  beaten rice.

Having travelled extensively across India and tried every kind of street food I can correctly claim that alu chura is unique to the hills and by hills I mean Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong  and surrounding areas.

The amazing thing about alu-chura is that all the vendors are migrants from Bihar, I talked to a few of them trying to unearth how they came about selling something that is not found in their own place.  The standard answer I got was that they were just continuing a business started by their father. I will have to keep on looking for an older alu-chura wala to get the answer to my questions.

When we were kids my mum used to try and make alu-chura for us at home and every time we ended up complaining that it was not as good as the one we eat from the vendor. My mum’s standard answer would be because she cooks in a hygienic environment she cannot match the sweat and dirt that goes into the alu-chura made by the bhayas. After few years, once she realized that no matter how tasty she makes it we will never stop eating it from the vendor, she gave up making it at home.

Alu-Chura vendor

Alu-Chura vendor

If you are in Gangtok and want to try alu-chura, just go to Lal Bazar and ask the vegetable vendors where the alu-chura wala’s are. They have their stalls right in the middle of the area. Generally, you will find a crowd near their stalls, busy  eating. A plate of alu-chura served on a disposable plate and garnished with onions and rock salt will cost you Rs. 10/-.

A serving of alu-chura garnished with onions and green chillies

A serving of alu-chura garnished with onions, green chillies and chana

Enjoy this unique product of Sikkim and let me know if you like it or not.

 

Vidya

Posted in Childhood, Cooking, Food, Gangtok, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aloo or Potato; which sounds better?

 

Say POTATO and now say ALOO. There is a difference right. Potato sounds flat, rounded and dull whereas aloo sounds soft, silky, it rolls off your mouth.  No! You don’t agree, well okay, aloo and potato is one and the same thing. Call it by whatever name, most people, like me love it in every form, shape and taste.  If you think aloo is bad then this post is not for you.

By the way if you thought zucchini and rocket leaves were cool then let me remind you aloo too is an import. The ubiquitous vegetable came to India and China during 17th Century. From Peru, it travelled all across America, Europe and then finally landed in Asia.

Thank god for small mercies and those explorers, I just can’t imagine life without aloo.

I put aloo in almost everything right from mutton curry to every other vegetable. Now you must be imagining me to be well rounded like the vegetable.  Far from it, just delete that mental image. However, it is true that in the past few years I had put on quite a lot of weight…

Ah! I can see you smirking! Let me finish the sentence. No the culprit was not aloo but my sedentary lifestyle. I lost almost 12 kgs in one year by just being active and  I did not stop eating my favourite veggie even for a single day. There did I effectively rob you of your grin.  Now I am grinning!

The all-time favourite, healthy, vitamins, fiber and mineral rich potatoes is good for heart and health, researchers even say that it helps keep certain types of cancer at bay. I wonder how it got all the negative publicity and the love of almost everyone’s life is now scorned at as unhealthy food.

Anyways I am very clear about my love and no amount of negative publicity is going to affect my affair with it. The trick is to understand that over indulgence of anything is bad. Go slow on the deep, double fried French fires, batata vada and even while using it as vegetables don’t fry it. Simple!

I remember when friends used to come over; the best snack was aloo, in-fact piroo aloo. It literally means Hot potatoes. I would even consider it to be fast food because it can be rustled up in a jiffy.  Also I believe that it is any time healthier than your pizza. Have your doubts, well then read the recipe and let me know. I might be wrong and I don’t mind being corrected.

Piroo aloo is found in almost every eating joint in Sikkim. In fact at times, almost always near schools it is served with boiled noodles. Sounds like a weird combination but  it is very popular and I have had my share of it.  This preparation is unique to Sikkim and adjoining hills as I have not seen it being prepared in such a way in any other part of the country. There is jeera aloo but then again piroo aloo is different.

Ingredients

4-5 large boiled potatoes

3-4 teaspoon of ginger and fresh red chilly paste. You can use as much red chilly you like; I mean it all depends on how much heat you can tolerate. ( Garlic is optional, if you  love the taste of garlic then include it ; I love garlic so I do include few clove of garlic too)

One large chopped tomato (preferably red and ripe)

Turmeric

Kashmiri mirch powder, one teaspoon

Salt to taste

Oil for cooking (preferably mustard oil)

Method

Dice the potatoes to bite size pieces.  Heat oil in a khadai, wok or a cooking pan. If you want, splutter some jeera seeds (cumin).  Then add the chopped tomato and salt.  Cook till it becomes soft and tender and gets mashed easily or alternatively you could puree the tomato and use it. Now add the haldi and Kashmiri mirch powder and cook for few minutes. Keep stirring. Ones the oil starts oozing out of the sides stir in the ginger chilli (plus optional garlic) paste. Don’t overcook it, just for a minute and then add the diced  potatoes. Stir it so that every potato is covered with the tomato, ginger- chilli gravy. Lower the flame and cover the pan, cook for few minutes. Don’t forget to toss it occasionally.  Voilà your piro aloo is ready.

Put it in a bowl and using a fruit fork pop it into your mouth. If you want to make it more exciting garnish it with you favourite mixture ( I prefer haldiram’s bhujia). You can also garnish it with finely chopped coriander.

Now why did I say healthier than a pizza, look at the ingredients, they are all healthy and natural. In fact I even consider it to be metabolism boosting food as it has the necessary spice/herb chilli and ginger to boost metabolism.

Piroo Aloo

Piroo Aloo

Divya K

Posted in Cooking, Food, Gangtok, India, North East, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Sikkim : Yuksom

Yuksom the first capital of Sikkim. The place where the three monks got together for the coronation of the first king, thus establishing the Namgyal Dynasty of Sikkim.

I last visited Yuksom some 20 years back when my dad bundled us kids in a jeep and drove us around West Sikkim. It was a great experience with singing, fighting and picnics.  This time around, it was my cousins, and I. When we reached Yuksom, I felt like I had entered a time wrap, not a lot had changed, I could see some new hotels had mushroomed but the essence of the place was the same: greenery, pristine mountain air and friendly people.

Yuksom Bazar

Yuksom Bazar

Having reached Yuksom in the afternoon, we had our lunch and went on a walk to Dubdi Monastry, the oldest monastery in Sikkim. The uphill climb was difficult, making me realize how unfit I had become. The actual monastery was under renovation by the Archeological Survey of India, and we had to climb over the fence as the gates were locked, but it was a fun, the hike  left us tired but energised. I know it sounds contradictory but that is what clean mountain air does.

The evening was spent cooking and drinking chang a local alcoholic drink made of fermented millet. It is very tasty and gives you a good buzz, though I have been told it is quiet fattening. Since I was on a holiday, I am allowed to indulge a bit.

The Coronation Throne

The Coronation Throne

Next day we explored the areas in and around Yuksom. Norbugang: the coronation throne made me realize how at par with nature we were. Other places have golden thorns but we have a very humble stone throne to mark the coronation of the first king of Sikkim.

The 3 monks who were responsible for the coronation each have a monastery at Yuksom, it’s easy walking distance and makes you invigorated. The ruins of the first palace at gufa dara has just a chorten (stupa) to mark the place, though the view from the hill top is magnificient.

the surrounding hills

the surrounding hills

The biggest challenge of the trip came while walking downhill to Phamrong falls. It’s 5 km downhill from Yuksom and the path was treacherous, slippery and narrow. There was always a fear of tumbling down the hill. However, we had gone looking for adventure and got a bagful of it. The only thing that worried me was the ever-present leech, those crawling slimy creatures that suck your blood. That is one of the hazards of travel during the monsoon, so you grin and bear it and use the time-tested solution of carrying salt with you.  Phamrong falls is beautiful; the volume of water flowing is amazing.  Generally speaking, people are not advised to travel to Sikkim during monsoon, but I believe this is one of the season when Sikkim is at its most beautiful. There is greenery everywhere, the rains (though fun when it drizzles but not when it pours), mist and you have every waterfall overflowing. It is a truly beautiful sight.

Phamrong fall

Phamrong fall

Having reached Phamrong we were contemplating how to get back, as it was already late and a 5km uphill trek didn’t sound so good, when a friendly traveller gave us a lift till Yuksom Bazar. The day ended with a pizza and beer from Gupta hotel, and the pizza is really good better than what we get in Gangtok.

Next day we were back on our way to Gangtok, energised by our weekend getaway.

How to get to Yuksom : Daily taxi service from Gangtok one in the morning at  7:00 am and one in the afternoon at 1:00 pm.  Its shared taxi costing Rs 250 per head.  People looking for more luxurious travel can hire a car from one  of the travel agents in Gangtok. Look for a good solid vehicle and not a small car as the road is very rough and you can get stuck in a landslide during monsoon.

Where to stay : There are many hotels, but if you want to get the real feel of Sikkim, I would recommend a homestay. A good travel agent can book you into a nice place. Getting a place to stay during off-season (monsoon and winter ) is not a problem. But during peek season (spring and autumn) its better to do the booking in advance.

Important places : Yuksom is a tiny place with few monasteries and the coronation throne most of the sightseeing can be done in a day, so you can club the visit to Yuksom by including places like Pelling, Khechiperi Lake, Rabangla.

Yuksom is more popular with the trekkers as the trek to Dzongri ,Geochala and Kanchendzonga base camp starts from Yuksom.

Cloths to carry: It gets really cold during winter and early spring so don’t forget to carry a warm jacket. During monsoon rain jacket and an umbrella is necessary. Since visiting Yuksom is all about hiking or walking, make sure you have comfortable shoes.

 

Vidya

Posted in Childhood, Gangtok, Hiking, Himalayas, India, Memoirs, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shya Phaley and the Ramayana ishtyle thunderstorm

I love to run. Running has been in my mind for ages. Every night I think that the next day would be the D day, but alas it remains just a thought. This running bug is not a new one. During my childhood, I used to get up at 4am and by 4:30 am I would be out jogging with my friends enjoying the cool pristine air of Gangtok. Now getting up at 6 am takes an effort!

It was just not jogging but I  even participated in 15 kms amateur marathon and  completed it on time. Phew! It is hard to believe now. I bet I have the certificate somewhere, will just check it out today to reassure myself that the marathon run is not a figment of my imagination.

We practiced almost a month for the marathon. I wouldn’t call it training as there were no trainers or technical knowledge imparted. We just ran, when the stretch was relatively flat, we would run with all our might and if it was uphill (which was mostly the case) we would trot along. However, it was fun!

After one such practice session, my friend took me to the canteen run by her family. Her elder sister was managing it and she invited me to join for breakfast. Out of politeness, I refused but she insisted, we do that a lot, refuse out of politeness, its ingrained in our DNA, I remember mum telling us “If someone offers anything, you politely decline, not grab it like you have never seen it”. I remember many occasions when I declined money from relatives, while secretly wishing I did not have to do so.

My friends sister was very happy to feed me, she said, “I will make a Shya phaley for you,” and the minute I heard it I was in a dilemma. Actually phaley is bread in Sikkimese and Shya means meat.  So if somebody says shya phaley then it means the bread is stuffed with minced meat and fried. 

 We are Brahmins and Brahmins don’t eat either pork or beef and the canteens used to serve these two meat as they were relatively cheaper than say chicken or mutton. I couldn’t even ask didi which meat was she using, as I did not want to sound rude and a snob. Moreover the frying and the aroma had already made me salivate.

Now I was in a Dharam Sanket literally meaning religious dilemma. I was hungry and the same time I was scared to eat it. We were told, I guess right from the time we were born that “we don’t eat beef and pork and if we do we will be ostracized from our caste”. At that time I did not even know how one would be ostracized but mum had said God would know.

 Having grown up watching Ramayana in Dordarshan, I was anticipating that as soon as I put that stuff into my mouth there would be a clap of thunder and somebody from up there would roar at me and say, “How dare you eat the uneatable from now on you will no longer be a Brahmin.” LOL, I bet at that time I did not even know the actual and true meaning of being a Brahmin.

However, despite all the dramatic fears going through my mind I wanted to eat the blasted stuff.

Ultimately despite all the turmoil within me, I did eat it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Till date I don’t know whether the mince was of beef, pork or chicken or some other stuff and I don’t even care now. I mean if I had to be reprimanded, it should have happened then and there. By the way, I was a bit hesitant in entering the space for offering puja for few days. I thought that maybe it would be easier for god to communicate with me in the puja room. However, thankfully God chose to ignore such trivial matter and today I can reminiscence about the silliness of the situation and grin like a fool.

 Nowadays I make shya phaley stuffed with chicken mince quite often to go with tea in the evening. It is really easy, simple and tasty.

Chicken Shya Phaley served with achar

Chicken Shya Phaley served with achar

Shya Phaley

Shya phaley is fried bread stuffed with mince of your choice and served with hot achar (in Sikkim almost everything even chutneys are referred to as achar). It looks somewhat like a gujia but larger in shape and flat. During your visit to Sikkim or the adjoining hill stations make it a point to try out this delicious snack. If you are in Gangtok, there is a small fast food joint right at M.G.Marg called Let’s Eat  which has good chicken shya phaley.

Remember I am no chef. Like every cook around the world I use eyes and fingers to measure. So use your discretion and intelligence while measuring the ingredients. This is just a broad outline on how to make shya phaley.

Ingredients

Mince (could be anything : pork, beef, chicken, mutton or even vegetable).

Finely chopped onions (Should be in equal quantity to the mince).

Ginger paste (As per taste).

Coriander leaves finely chopped.

Salt to taste. 

For the dough

Refined flour (Maida, I bet one could use other flour but I have always used maida).

Oil for frying

Vegetable oil for frying (you have the option of either deep frying or shallow).

Fresh Red chillies to make a paste and serve along with Shya phaley.

 

Method

Add the onions, ginger chilli paste, salt, and coriander leaves to the mince and mix it thoroughly. If you are using fat free mince then add a teaspoon of vegetable oil or a blob of butter.  It will make the mince moist and juicy. Remember to use your judgment, the mince should not be dripping in oil or butter but just enough to keep it moist. Keep it aside for a minimum of half an hour or more.

Make dough out of the refined flour by adding water and keep it aside for an hour. The dough should be of medium consistency neither too soft nor too hard. Divide the dough into small balls the size of a Ping-Pong ball.  Now roll out the dough one at a time into a disc much like a chapatti or a tortilla. Usually the size of the disc is not larger than 6-7 inches in diameter. The disc should not be thin as it might break.

Now on one half of the disc place a table spoon of the mince and cover it with the other half. Seal it and then fry it in vegetable oil.

Serve hot with fresh red chili paste or sauce of your choice and a cup, no not a cup but a mug of hot sweet Sikkim tea.

If you were brave enough to try our haphazardly written recipe, please let us know how it turned out to be.  

Happy Cooking !!!

 

Divya K

Posted in Childhood, Cooking, Food, Gangtok, India, North East, Nostalgia, Sikkim, Sikkimese Food, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment