I have just returned from a fabulous holiday in Agra. It was cold and the drive from Delhi to Agra was delicious – streams of sunlit roads, tickling stretches of mustard fields, huge kettles of boiling milk at Mathura, mounds of pale sand where women worked on swathes of ‘phiroza’ and orange-colored cloth, delicate rims of pink and purple in the sky making you feel as in you were trapped in the pupil of a celestial eye with a fading iris all around it.
Ruddy camels padding along brick-laid lanes, chaarpais laid out in the sun with raspy radio in the background, hot tea in glasses, full meals - husky rotis smeared with butter, and bowls of spicy yellow daal, dark chhole in thick, brown gravy, chillies slit and rubbed with salt and lemon juice, and tasty jeera papads.
And finger-licking side dishes made with eggs.
It was about 2 or 3 degrees when A and I first strolled along the dusty, crowded Fatehbaad Road. (Interestingly called ‘Fatyabaad’ by some locals.) Considering I had given up meat, it was difficult to stay warm just eating vegetables and the like. So I practically consumed every egg in sight. And the way these eggs were prepared was absolutely fabulous.
My favorite was the omlette in which they’d break two eggs and add masala and onions to the beaten yolk. They’d let the egg cook a little and while the yolk was still runny, they’d add a couple of bread slices in the centre and fold the egg. This way, the slices got coated with the egg and the omlette acquired a fluffy sponginess because of the bread. This omlette, now a large and filling dish, was cut in cubes and served piping hot with green chutney, chaat masala, and a lump of butter on top of it.
Another version was the humble boiled egg. I fancy it more because of the preparation method than its taste – although the latter is mouthwatering.
Here, the cook takes a hard-boiled egg and shells it. It’s really pretty – the way his sharp thumb nail flakes off the skin in mosaic tile format. After this, he takes a string and deftly splices the egg into two. I think the string is used so that none of the hardened yoke crumbles out. Then both parts of the egg are sizzled on a hot pan until the yolk is browned a little bit. The halves are then sprinkled with chaat masala, one other kind of powder, chopped onions, and some dhania and served.
The tastes are so piquant that you definitely need something warm and sweet to round off the meal. So we head to the adjoining rekri where a man sells hot, creamy milk in little clay pots and another one fries imartis. I get one fresh imarti in a leaf bowl and two ladles of milk on it. I gingerly dip the imarti in the milk and nibble my way to gastronomic heaven. The huge cloud of lovely smells and tastes that cocoons me in the winter evening is awesome.
I think I’ll have a great new year.
Happy 2008 to y’all. May you enjoy it on a full, full belly!