Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Tourist-ification of our food!

“I asked a question, at least you could reply with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’!”
Shweta’s comment made me realize that my affirmative chuckle had failed to convey its meaning so I quickly said “Oh right. I meant I didn’t!”
The aforementioned question was, “You said you would write a blog about ‘Punjabification’ of Indian food. You didn’t write that, did you?”
And she was not wrong. I have been very vocal against lack of local dishes in the menus of restaurants in our tourist destinations. Every menu starts with a ‘Tomato Soup’, continues to the legendary ‘Paneer Tikka’ or the nouveau ‘Crispy Babycorn’, marches into the kingdom of ‘Paneer Butter Masala’ or ‘Butter chicken’, aided and abetted by ‘Tandoori Roti’ or ‘Paneer Kulcha’ along with ‘Dum Biryani’ and summed up by ‘Vanilla Ice Cream’.
I am mainly a vegetarian so more emphasis on veg dishes but you get the effing idea!
I agree that using the term ‘Punjabification’ is probably incorrect since the staple restaurant-y North Indian cuisine includes dishes which may or may not have originated from Punjab but somehow all that Paneer and all that chicken give this food an aura of ‘Punjabiness’!
So I didn’t find Jhunka Bhakar in Mahabaleshwar but I could select from 5 types of Parathas because ‘tourists’ get what ‘tourists’ want.
And I had met a similar fate in Port Blair which led to the question. However in Havelock Island, tide turned for a little while because Full Moon Cafe had a delightful collection of dishes in their menu. Although they kept the Great-Indian-restaurant-tradition alive by keeping some of these dishes, they had lots of other lesser-seen dishes as well like ‘Bamboo fish’ (fish steamed in bamboo leaves) and Bengali ‘Fish Paturi’. I sincerely regret not reading their menu more carefully! The place is scenic and quiet, the food is superb, the staff is helpful and I specially love their policy of not selling bottled water to reduce plastic waste on the island.
Venom Bar has got a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor and it’s not for nothing. The place has a lovely vibe and stands as a symbol of nightlife on the island. The Paneer Tikkas (yeah same old, same old) were surprisingly good and their lobster (pronounced ‘law buster’ by our server) looked absolutely ravishing!

(Its price was ravishing as well and since they don’t accept cards we had to take along one of their guys to the sole working ATM on the island, withdraw money and pay him for the meal!)
But what would get a 5 and a half star rating from me is a small restaurant close to Baratang Jetty. The restaurant doesn’t even have a shop board, but has two sections ‘Veg’ and ‘Non Veg’ complete with green and red dots respectively. We went to the ‘Non Veg’ section but they served us vegetarian dishes as well and the chickpea-pumpkin-carrot curry in a thick gravy just blew my mind. There was a beans dish and a cabbage one as well, but I could eat hardly anything else. Though Keerthi was busy tinkering with the crab (considering the heaps of bones he extracted I wonder how much he ate!) both Sirisha and Shweta continued to dig in for this curry and we took a second serving as well. Rice was long and thin, fish was beautifully grilled and any regret that we missed the 12.30 ferry to Middle Strait dissipated in thin air!
Back in Port Blair, it was back to same drabness.
May be the problem is with us, the Indian tourists, who love our lunch (or dinner) money so much that we are afraid to try out a new thing and stick to our Chicken Tandooris or Masala Dosas wherever we go. I really wish there are more restaurants like that tiny place on Baratang who will put the local taste back on the menu!