My previous post on Dehra Dun was just the frosting of the cake. I know we all eat cake (well at least I do) just for the frosting, but the cake is pretty good too. It seems to me that every memory I have of Dehra Dun involves food in some way and if I open one thread it leads to another. Today I am thinking of the day my generous cousin introduced me to momos. He took me to this little stall somewhere in the outskirts of the town which apparently sold the best momos. One plate of steamed and one plate of fried momos later I agreed. With that memory out comes the memory of afternoons spent perched on a pear tree in my paternal grandfather’s backyard eating raw pears. They would be crisp, but not sweet. We would eat them by the dozens all of us together and then inevitably end up with upset stomachs. Or the evenings in my maternal grandfathers house stealing litchis from the tree in his yard. Why do I say stealing? Because my grandfather had sold the fruit of the tree to this merchant who would pluck all the fruit of the season and sell it in the market. Technically the fruit was not ours. He had a person guarding the trees to make sure no one stole his fruit. So we would get onto the terrace and hidden from his view, steal the fruit right at the top of the tree. But many a time when my granddad caught us we got the screaming of a lifetime. How dare we steal? But like all forbidden fruit is, this one was sweeter than everything else.
Dehra Dun was the land of indulgence. That was the bottom line. It was the land of holidays and cousins and playing and being pampered. It still is – and I think that’s why every memory is sweet. Talking of sweets, there were always copious sweets around. Be it the bakery biscuits – butter, cashew, almond or cake rusk or the huge boxes of mithai that every person popping into the house brought along or the pastries from Ellora’s, we were never dessert deprived. And that apart from the evening excursions to the store near the house to get our daily ration of chocolate or ice cream or Frooti. We rarely heard a no, the way we did all through the school year in Chennai. Because even if your parent said no, an aunt or an uncle would inevitably overrule it and buy you the ice cream or Frooti or chocolate that you wanted!
Peaches. I have suddenly remembered the peaches. The north overflows with them in the summer while the south used to be deprived a decade or so ago. Now of course you get them everywhere. I remember having them on a trip from Dehra Dun. Such red fruit with soft, velvety skin and the juice dripping out from it. I had never had a fruit so delightful until then. To this day I wait for the peaches in summer.
Dehra Dun is in a hilly area so any travel to and from the place involved serious motion sickness for my brother and me. But we staved off the vomit by sucking on sour lemon and orange candies, aam papad and anardana candies, also unique to our North India trips. While driving from Delhi to Dehra Dun, buses would sometimes make a stop at a restaurant called Cheetal. It was the best place along the route, in terms of food and setting and the fact that the ground water there was cold. During hot summer months, it would be pure bliss to stop at Cheetal and splash some of that cold water on your face. The club sandwich or milkshake that came afterwards was just a bonus!
Dehra Dun was also the place where I got to eat traditional Garhwali food. Certain Garhwali ingredients are unique to the region so we could eat them only when we visited. Two of my eternal favorites are toor ki dal and aloo badi. The toor ki dal is a brown lentil completely different from the other dal also known as toor which is yellow in color. One of my favorite combinations is toor ki dal, rice and raita, followed by a nap! And the badis! There was a time when my nani used to make them herself and sun dry them in her garden. The badis are made of black urad dal and are very spicy. They are cooked like mutton and become so soft that when you bite one you can’t tell that it’s not meat. In fact when I was a child many a time my mother did convince me that I was eating mutton. There were other things that we ate – gahat ki dal, chausa, phana – but rarely and so I didn’t develop much of a taste for them. Now I long to eat them just to understand my native food a little better. I feel a sense of loss, that I have eaten the cuisines of the world, but failed to understand that of my birth.
My uncle who was in a transferable job, was at one time posted up in the hills of Garhwal and from there he would bring back such exotic things like Malta (a fruit similar to orange) and Buras (rhododendron flowers I believe) squashes made locally which we would drink several glasses of in the hot summer days. What a relief it would be to drink the pure and sweet fruit juices completely different from the bottled stuff we would get in the stores.
I will stop now I think, because if I don’t the deluge of memories will wash away the rest of my night. Such is their power.