I moved to Ahmedabad back in 2010 and then shared a tumultous love story with the city till 2013 when I moved to Bangalore. Back in 2010, the Other and I landed in May, during a harsh summer and the city did everything in its power to make me hate it, and hate it I did.
I fell ill in two days and threw up the contents of my lunch on the office floor on my second day – it is a real surprise that they did not fire me. Then the next week, while walking to office, a random wire split my toe open, cutting an important blood vessel in the process – I managed to make it to office and then I promptly fainted. In retrospect I really don’t know why they didn’t fire me. This was followed by many other incidnets like a beetle ( I think) which scoured of the flesh off my hand while I was sleeping, which led to a pus filled crater, which led to a fever… you get the drift. The highlight of all of ahmedabad’s efforts to kill me however was on the eve of my first year anniversary when I almost chopped my finger off.
Anyways the city and I called a truce after that, and I decided that I loved to hate it rather than outright hate it, and the city stopped trying to kill me. The project I worked on was one of the most fabulous projects ever and it saw me through the three years, but there was one other thing – THE FOOD.
Slowly before I knew it, we were in love, and the city and I share a unbreakable bond, (it’s mostly the food) I keep coming back every now an then like a homing pigeon, get very excited when someone speaks gujrati and you can have me floored with the mere mention of fafda jelabi…
I was initiated to street food for the first time in Ahmedabad, and it was a torrid love affair. The locals stuck up their noses but I could not stop gobbling the pani puri or drinking copious amounts of roadside chai. I still marvel at the number of very very different things the gujjus create with the staple ingredient of besan ( gram flour). Since we landed yesterday morning, we have done nothing but eat at our favourite joints and rest – getting ready for our long jounrey – #buttercupgoeswest.
As soon as we landed we rushed to Chandra Vilas in the Old City, it is a 150 year old joint – where Gandhiji and Sardarji supposedly hung out. They also claim to have invented the gujju thali. This place used to serve the best fafda – jalebi, green dhal katchoris and the queue outside during uttarayan for their undhiyo was legendary. We were salivating before we reached, but something had changed. The small basement joint hardly had customers, there were 15 listless waiters, staring in different directions. We were given a plate of fafda, with a miniscule portion, but when we dug in, it wasn’t the same. The khadi was piping hot, the green papaya salad was tangy and perfect, but the fafda missed the mark, and the green chillies were not salted and sauteed enough. We refused to be disappointed – and made up excuses. We spied the cook making a fresh batch, deftly rolling out besan strips and deep frying them and ordered another plate. I don’t know why, but fafda is the one deep fried snack which just doesn’t taste deep fried, so you can fool yourself to believing its healthy quite easily. The second batch, though hot still did not make the cut. The jalebis however were hot, and dripping with syrup and managed to salvage the meal. However the chai we ordered to wash down our meal was served in tiny paper cups. I was so looking forward to their chipped teacups, and dirty saucers, to watching the old men pour the tea into their saucers and slurp it, that I wanted to cry. It is the end of an era, Chandra vilas has changed irrevocably, the locals tell us the management could have changed but echo our sentiment in the loss of quality :(. I would still urge you to visit, soak in the history, imagine Gandhiji and Mr. Patel sitting there – but eat the jalebis and leave, unless you hear otherwise.
To mitigate our disappointment we went straight to Oswal on Ashram Road. This place used to have the second best fafda – jalebi – but now is the best in Ahmedabad. We soothed our frayed nerves with the perefctly crisp fafda, dipped in Khadi, with a sprinkling of raw grated papaya – BLISS, and then bit into delcious hot jalebis which oozed syrup. Oswal also has the best dhal vadas in the whole world. Though they are perfect for a rainy day, they are equally good on a cold winter morning. Do not forget to bite into a perfectly salted sauteed green chilly along with every dhal vada.
Satiated we retired to our hotel to recuperate. As this is technically our honeymoon, we decided to gift ourselves one nice hotel stay, before becoming the backpackers we really are. I will write a separate post about our hotel – The House of M.G, but they have two restaurants. Agashiye is a gujju thali restaurant, with a fabulous spread. As it is a rooftop restaurant, I recommend that you try it for dinner, but starve for the entire day before you go. Their green tea ice cream at the end is quite commendable. They also have an a la carte restaurant called the Green Gouse. It is rather cafe like and they serve a whole variety of things. I have not bothered to try anything except the gujrati snacks and most of them are quite nice. It is overpriced, and some dishes are tailor made for the ‘ foreign’ tongue – so low on spice and low on taste, but there are some dishes which are fabulous and will have me coming back for more.
My personal favourite is the panki – a savoury pancake steamed in banana leaves. It is paper thin, with a texture like muslin cloth, followed by teplas, which are rotis made with besan ( again !) along with fenugreek leaves amonst other things. The accompaniments to the thepla include homemade butter, which will readily melt on the hot teplas, and take you to another culinary dimension. The Green House also serves a coconut milk – lime concotion which they call house sherbet. I seem to be the only one who likes it, but it is extremely refreshing, and do try it. I really need to find more people who like it.
Post lunch, we needed to rest before our evening chaat, yes I know we are piggies. Refereshed we headed to the Muncipal Market on C.G. road. This place has the potential to be such a great public space, but the food court is pushed to a corner and the rest of the area is used as a parking lot. I really don’t know when we Indians will start designing cities for people and not cars ! Though it has been two years since I last came, my favourite pani puri guy still occupied the same spot, with his 8 flavours of pani puri. He has a cup with a hole, which he holds over the puris as opposed to dipping them. This small invention keeps the puris so crisp and very little water leaks out. The flavour of the water ranges from garling , jeera, tomato to ‘ normal’. Each is better than the next, though the ginger flavoured water is not for the faint hearted, it is a potent hit.
We moved onto the dosa guy next, don’t raise your eyebrows. we didn’t come all the way from Chennai to eat dosas, but this guy is out of the world. he as on his menu inventions such as a the chinese dosa and the spring dosa (based on the spring roll) . The spring dosa is my favourite, a crispy crepe filled with veggies, what is not to love. Right next to him is the cold coffee guy, who has a mixer on a turn table, which he turns by hand. This city and its food will never cease to amaze me. We finished our snack with ‘ ragda patties’ – hot aloo tikkis in a bed of spicy channa, granished with chutneys and sliced onions. If you don’t want to try anything else, you must try this. I could not wait to eat this, so we have no pictures.
The unashamed hogs that we are, we headed back to the hotel to rest and then walked to ‘ manek chowk’ for a late dinner. Manek Chowk is a little square in the old city, which is the most vibrant public space I have ever seen. I would rate it right on top, along with Times Square. The square is used to feed cows in the morning, and then turns into a parking lot through the day for the jewellery stores which line it. In the late evening till midnight or later it turns into a thriving night food market. This serves as a security for the jewellery store.
Manek Chowk has the most mouth water pav bhaji. Remember to ask for the butter option. As Amul ( a diary cooperative ) originated in gujrat, all shopes will proudly announce that they only use amul butter and cheese , and the dollops of butter will put nigella to shame, and the gujjus take their cheese very serously – seriously. Almost everything in Manek Chowk is to die for, my suggestion is to start the meal with a bhaji pav, followed by a chocolate sandwich. This is far yummier than it sounds, it is an awkward combination of nutella and a thick layer of cheese, but it will grow on you with every bite. You can then have a gwalior dosa ( more butter than you can imagine ) and continue to experiment as per your whims.
Asharfi lal kulfi, who is a century old sits at the mouth of Manek Chowk and it is the best way to end your meal, and your day. A bowl of that kulfi will ensure you sleep with the best dreams. He hasa variety of flavours, but the traditional malai, BPK ( badam pista kesar) etc are the best…
I almost forgot that we managed to sneak to Lucky Teas stall for a tea and maska bun somewhere during the day. This tea stall is interesting in many many ways
(a) it is situated in a graveyard, and the tables are placed amidst the graves
(b) it has a live tree in the middle of it
(c) M.F Hussein used to frequent this store, but didn’t have moeny to pay them and gifted them a painting instead, and it hangs proud to this date
(d) best maska bun ever !!! ( both the plain butter and the jam version are good) and they serve their tea in cups !
Anyways it is our last night in Ahmedabad and it is dinner time, so we need to go.. see you all tommorrow .