Thursday, October 28, 2010

A pilgrimage of sorts- La Bella

NID kid- Abhishek and I had quite few food and culture adventures in my three days in Ahmedabad. It is a great city to wander about in and discover its various markets and food joints. The first evening he took me to eat Tibetian food near NID, which was really delicious. It is a small little room, near the river bed and a long time ago when I lived there it was part of a huge Tibetian market which has now been relocated. We had beef and noodle soup, beef momos and stir fried beef. (Abhishek please remind what the dishes were called). Later we walked down to VS hospital to the famous frozen coconut water wala. It was a good 20 min walk in which we caught up about design and such.  We decided to meet early next morning and visit the Calico Museum of Textiles. I could not believe what an amazing collection they had. I remember visiting it when I was in CEPT some 10 years back and not really getting it. But this time I was blown away, it was a collection that would make the Met in NY, the Art Institute in Chicago and the Louvre in Paris jealous. The tour was too fast for me, the details of the textiles were spectacular. Owned by the Sarabai's, the Calico museum is housed in a series of lovely, ornate wood carved buildings. I am including a sketch of it as cameras were not allowed in the entire complex. After the tour, we were starving so Abhishek and I decided to head over to La Bella (Labs) which we both agreed made the best economical meal in all of Ahmedabad. I used to go there when I was in school. I was introduced to the place by my friend Prats who swears that she would have died if it was not for Aunty's food.

I could not wait to get there. It was a typical hot Ahmedabad afternoon. The rickshaw took us through the narrow streets of the Old city. Oddly enough both Abhishek and I had never taken a rickshaw to Labs and did not know how to give the Rickshaw wala directions. Labs is the kind of place you get to sitting behind someone's motorbike, hungry at the end of the day- ready to eat a lovely home cooked Goan meal. All we knew was that, it was in Khanpur and the rest we could visually direct him there. And that is just what we did. After a bit more wanderings, and a few wrong turns and some backtracking, we came to a long wall painted with Pepsi and Coke graphics and a rusted, old shutter door. No signage, so easy to overlook. And then we saw him- Anna was standing by the door looking absolutely the same as if I was there just yesterday. Yes we had arrived. We were at Labs.

We ordered our meal in anticipation. Mutton curry, Mutton fry and fried fish. Rice on the side. We ate our meal in silence. I savored the flavours of Auntys cooking. Each bite brought back memories of the days gone by in Ahmedabad. Eating aunty's food after 8 years. It felt like a pilgrimage of sorts. The mutton was succulent, perfectly spiced. The curry was thick and tangy and made the perfect mouthfuls with rice. The mutton fry was spicy and crispy. We ordered another round and ate in silence. Just sighing and yummying the food as we finished it.

I went to the back to thank Aunty and see if she remembered me. Not me. But she remembered John, KB, Roy, Garima, Jose and Prats. Yes Prats she remembers you. Prats- I hope this inspires you to pack your bags and just visit Ahmedabad.

So what is La bella or Labs. It is a little hole in the wall place that is run by this Goan aunty for as long as anyone can remember. She makes a couple of dishes everyday and any one who eats her meal, swears by her. I know I do. It is a place of no pretensions. The meal that Abhishek and I shared- 3 Mutton curries, 3 Mutton Fry, one fish fry and a bottle of water was all for Rs 150 which is hardly $3. And it is not about that- it is about eating at a place which is like a home away from home.

Check out these pictures of this quaint little place in Khanpur, Ahmedabad.

The sketch of the Calico Museum:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Midnight Madness- Manek Chowk!

The best Pav Bhaji I have ever eaten. And what an adventure getting to it. I took the heritage walk in the city with my friend Jiten. He had some guests from Denmark and wanted them to see the Old City of Ahmedabad at night. I had heard of these lovely Heritage walks conducted by the Mangaldas family and decided to attend. The walk starts at the Patel ni Pol at the Mangaldas Pol. Wooh! What a house! Completely blew my mind- the gorgeous wood work and the spaces. Oh what would I give to live in that house in the old city of Ahmedabad. We walked through the narrow lanes of the old City looking at some gorgeous old Pol houses that belonged to the likes of Hatheesingh and such. Into the little squares where people were starting to prep for Garba, on the mainroads back into the narrow lanes,  past the red haired old lady with two parrots, through the city gates, near the king's tomb, past the sleeping people, near the cattle shed, under the Fernandes bridge where second hand books are sold and suddenly a couple more turns in the narrow lanes and we arrive in the middle of Manek Chowk.
The gorgeous veranda of the Mangaldas Pol house
Julia, Jiten, Johannes, and Trina
Strange red haired old woman with 2 parrots
The narrow streets at night
The opening onto Manek Chowk
Foodies Rejoice!

Manek Chowk!
This square in the busy heart of Ahmedabad is full of jewelery shops on the second floor. Once the jewelery shops close by 8pm, the food shops on the ground level open up. They set up their chairs and tables in the main square. Soon by 9:30- 10 pm the whole space is bustling with folks with their families enjoying some of the best street food ever. The variety ranges from Ragda Patties, Pani Puri, Pav Bahji, Pulao, Pizza, Dosa, Chinese. A food court of sorts but one that has existed for several decades. The space is alive till the wee hours of the morning especially during the Navratri (Nine Nights) catering to the crowd that comes hungry and tired after dancing.
There are also some fun stall such as a Soda Pop where they sell Whisky flavoured soda and a cold Cocoa stand at the New Janta that Jiten reminded me was institutional to Ahmedabad. But my heart was with the Pav Bhaji- my favourite snack ever. The Bhaji was spicy, tangy with potatoes and peas and loaded with butter. The Pav were not as fresh but the butter compensated for it all.  It was amazing to watch the bhajji wala pound away at huge amounts of potatoes on the tawa. He was fast - I tried capturing his movements on my camera. But what Pav- Bhaji- My mouth is still watering. Too much- too much!

The Food Court
Utterly Butterly dosas
Trying out the Cold Cocoa at New Janta
The reason its so thick is because of custard powder
Soda Shop
Pineapple, mausambi, lychee, lemon, strawberry, mint, mocktail, kala-khatta, fruitbeer, kachi kairi, masala, orange and whiskey flavor.
You bet we tried the whiskey flavor. It was strange.
More Navratri Belles
The making of the pav bhaji-
Butter Pav
Lucky Jiten with two lovely ladies on either side
Lucky me with two handsome men on either side!

On the walk, the most stunning thing that I discovered about the old city was the drummers who played their drums every night informing/ warning its citizens that the city gates are closing and those who need to leave must leave and those who need to enter must enter.The drums were played between 11pm and 11:35pm every night. 600 years ago the drummers were stationed at all 14 gates. Today there is one family that still carries on the tradition of playing these drums though the gates do not close. Part of the tour brought us to this lovely room where the drummer and his son played the drums. Here is a 30 second recording of the drums. (Sorry for the sound quality- the space echoed a lot)