It was a very good year for friendships, both old and new. Friends at grad school, friends at dance rehearsals, blogger friends, neighbor friends; it was an exuberant year of friendship. Between my frequent trips to India and travels all over US, I made friends, good friends, in the most unusual places/situations—on a shuttle bus to the airport, on a 12 hours long flight with a dysfunctional in-flight entertainment system, at an airport cafe as I sat alone staring at my empty beer glass while waiting for the connecting flight, and at the George Bush International Airport as I was being momentarily held due to bureaucratic inefficiencies. Friends from Dubai, Barcelona, Berlin and Lahore. And it appears that, thanks to Viber, Whatsapp, and facebook, our friendships will withstand the threats of time and distance till we meet again. I also managed to stop over at Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Vishakhapatnam, and Hyderabad (in addition to Kolkata) to meet up with several of my old friends.
Yesterday, as I sat at my desk looking through the pictures of the times spent with my friends, outlining a chocolate cake recipe in my head, and devising a blog post to dedicate to them, I realized that, during my recent visits to India, most of the time with my friends was spent in the dhabas around the airports in all these cities. Dhabas are these bucolic road side (highway truck stop) restaurants in India that are always open. They mostly serve (dhabas in certain regions of the country also serve more simplistic eggs and lentil based dishes) heavily spiced northwest frontier cuisine cooked in tandoor ovens, and are popular for their vibrant and musical atmospheres and economical rates.
I love dhabas because of their awesome food, because of their charcoal-burning-clay-ovens with their incessant orange blobs of fire that glow like sun in the dark, because of their charpoys, because of their lassis, because of their indiscriminate use of butter, and because of the endless whistling of their aluminium kettles overflowing with masala chai. Because when I meet a friend after ages, brimming with excitement and long kept secrets and gossips, all I need is a 24 hours open restaurant and a frequently replenished cup of tea. Furthermore, all airports have a nearby dhaba making them easily accessible places for the always-on-a-time-crunch kind of traveler like me. Although, the quick service time at these dhabas, the ceaseless commotion, and the continuous noise of the aircraft engines flying over our heads are a continuous reminder of the transient nature of these meetings.
Dhabas are fundamental to friendships in India. We all have memories of that one day/night when we bunked school/college and went to the local dhaba, because that’s the only place we could afford then, and chicken bharta was the only thing we (only me?) liked to eat then. Therefore, on friendship day there is nothing I want to eat more than chicken bharta. This recipe comes directly from the Azad Hind Dhaba kitchen. Do try it. And if you have stories about dhabas that you would like to share with us, then leave a comment. 🙂
- 4 tbsp oil
- 6 cardamoms
- 6 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large onion, very finely chopped
- 1 tbsp garlic paste
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 2 green chilies, chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 250 grams boneless chicken (approximately 8 oz), cut into bite size pieces
- salt to taste
- 4 tbsp cashew paste
- 1/4 cup fresh cream
- 1/4 cup yogurt, beaten with a little water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek)
- cilantro for garnish
- 2 tbsp fresh cream for garnish
- 1 boiled egg, halved
- Heat oil in a pan and add bay leaf, cloves and cardamoms. Give it a stir and after about thirty seconds add chopped onions and sauté over medium heat until it turns golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
- Add ginger and garlic paste and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- In a small bowl mix the powdered spices with 3 tbsp of water and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or until oil separates.
- Next add tomatoes and green chilies and cook, turning the heat up, till the tomatoes turn soft and oil starts to separate again, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add chicken and cook covered over medium heat until done. Should take about 5-6 minutes.
- Add cashew paste and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
- Now turn the heat down again, and slowly add whisked yogurt while stirring continuously. Cook for another 10-15 minutes over low heat.
- Add salt before turning off heat.
- Finish with cream, butter and kasoori methi.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with cilantro, boiled eggs and fresh cream.