Of Food and Fear – I

Fear. It grips us in the most vicious way. It envelopes the mind and clouds judgment. It behaves like a superior race; gloating over the beads of sweat it brings onto our foreheads, trickling slowly into our souls and becoming a fixture. It is upon us to overrule its command and break out of the shackles.

I am not getting philosophical here. Nor is the title of the blog in any way suggesting nexus between the two F words. Always wanted to write something that sounded like the narration right out of a TV Drama – this seems close enough. However, this isn’t some random rambling – it is a sensing associated with my recent trip to Manali.

Manali – such a picturesque place. Why would one want to associate the word ‘fear’ with it? All thanks to my acrophobia. More on that later. First – predictably about my food journeys whilst on the trip.

This was an outing with mom and neighbors who are equivalent to family. A tranquil few days I was really looking forward to – escaping from daily routine and in some ways from reality. Since time was an affordable luxury, we wandered through the uphill roads in sheer abandon.

While on a holiday, I look forward most to the king of meals – breakfast. Not so much for citations on health magazines but more so because vacays promise elaborate and leisurely breakfasts unlike the everyday customary ‘chug-a-mug, gobble-a-mouthful’. We particularly enjoyed breakfast on our first day at Johnson’s Lodge – fluffy omlettes, crispety crisp hash browns and crunchy dressed veggies. The only other breakfast which stays on the mind was at Café Amigo’s. Actually, the preparations were disappointing but I loved the multi-grain bread. Enjoyed the baked goodness of the crusty bread without any dressing/spread – a sheer rarity.

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Three places I thoroughly enjoyed food at – English Dinner at Jimmy Johnson’s, much awaited meal at Mom’s Kitchen, chulha cooked Himachali lunch by Jana Falls. Jimmy Johnson’s is an old café serving some classy trout platters and is recognized for it. Visit this place and enjoy some yummy garlic grilled trout. For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy fish much, the Chicken Roast Platter is a delight – peppery with a thick sauce. I must add, the vegetarians don’t have much choice beside some wood-fired pizzas which aren’t great – I have eaten way better.

We could taste food at Mom’s Kitchen by sheer Divine Intervention – at least my mother claims it was her prayers that led to the before prior-to-season opening of Mom’s Kitchen 🙂 The place is run by an old couple in their 70s. It can seat not more than 12 persons at a time. The USP – fresh food prepared after the order is placed and made with Mom’s own twist to otherwise traditional recipes. My friend Jashan ordered the Chicken in Mom’s Special Sauce. One bite into a platter and I wanted to keep the plate for myself. I had the Ajwaini Roti with Chicken which was pretty good. Suggest visiting this place not for the richness of the food but for – richness in the care with which the food is prepared, for the interesting conversations with the 75 year old ex-surgeon who humbly serves the guests since 20 years, for the thought that goes into packing the poori-bhaji you ordered for your journey with some complimentary pudine ki chutney because you told them that you loved the way they made it.

On our second day at Manali, we visited the Roerich Art Gallery. After seeing glimpses in the lifetime of this Russian Master of the Mountains and his wife, the legendary and spectacular Devika Rani, we were greeted with chilly showers on our way back from this hilly memorial. With the rains came the appetite and the imperial recollections were balanced out by the earthy meal we ate by Jana Falls on that rainy afternoon. Nothing bigger than a kiosk, this place is run by Himachalis and serves authentic food – rajma, chawal, kaddi, makai ki roti, saag, siddu, mirch ki chutney. The cooking was done on a slow wooden fire under mud walls, the greens were minced over a grinding stone, the flour was farm fresh. Oh just one more thing, the food was served with a bowl hot ghee which threatened to freeze if not doused into the meal quickly. Anything more I say will dilute the charm of the food. Forget the spoons and forks, roll up your sleeves and enjoy the flavors of the mountains.

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The evenings were mostly spent strolling by the shops lined up in the market area. The cold weather demanded a good appetite which meant gorging on steamy Momos. The kiosk outside Adarsh restaurant was particularly good, especially the tongue-smacking chilli sauce – something most places cannot nail.

The advantage and disadvantage of our trip was that we visited in off-season period. Advantage – it did not feel like ‘the great human migration’ during which tourists flock hill stations not so much to beat the heat but for bachon ka vacation. Disadvantage – lean period = most restaurants take a breather = we missed out on a few awesome food experiences.

Another experience we missed on was visiting Rohtang Pass – climatic hazard. Anyway, we did get to visit its winter counterpart Solang Valley. That’s where the adventure lay.

Since this blog is inspired by tele-drama, I am going to keep the suspense hanging and let the blog roll over to Part II.

Watch this space for more 😉

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