Last week my friend Chef Sanjay Pawar, while returning from Kolkata, brought a carry bag and took pride in presenting to the foodie in me the goodies in it. He took out two of them and showed me and……..”Gondhoraj“, I exclaimed !! In an expert move he mildly rubbed those together and ah…what a refreshinly heady aroma they released which hung in the air for some time. Thereafter, for good half an hour the discussion went in the direction of Gondhoraj Lebu and its importance in the Bangla food. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with it, Gondhoraj is a close cousin of our very own Lemon but is green in color and slightly less citrus than lemon. Has a very great lemony aroma and hence the name Gondhoraj – “king of Good Limes”. Every Bangla meal served has to be accompanied by a slice or two of Gondhoraj, green chillies and a pinch of salt. It is customary. It is also used in many recipes in Bengal. The aroma and the taste lingered on in my mind and then something happened a few days later.
It so happens these days that I keep on getting suggestions and recommendations from my nears and dears on which food to try and on what topic my next writing piece should be (I am grateful to each one of them for providing me inputs). As part of this, my often-commuting friends, Sanjay Malhotra and Pradeep Bhayana took me to two amazing street food vendors which gave me the thread to this story today. Let’s see what connection it has to do with the preface I built.
The first one ,where I was taken, is an outlet which has been there for about 30 years, tucked in an unassuming corner near Hari Nagar Bus Depot in West Delhi. I cross that place twice daily for a long time now but failed to notice it all this time. When we got off the main road and parked our car, I could see a small food cart displaying a signboard, “Shahi Pishori Chicken Soup Corner” and many people enjoying their fill. As the name suggests, it serves soups and only two variants, tomato and chicken. Since it was late evening and was dark, all I could see was a middle-aged man dressed in all white was pouring veg or non-veg soups in the takeaway glasses from the two separate big sized kettles and adding in somethings in the glasses before handing over. I was not very impressed but my belief that no food is bad, I went on to try it. It was piping hot and the first spoonful in the mouth released a bouquet of flavours on the palate. It was a pleasant surprise. It was something unique. I could make out the ingredients but got curious that what all has gone into it to make it so tasty. I resolved to come again to the place sometime early evening to dissect the soup in the daylight. A couple of days later we were there again. This time perhaps we were amongst the early birds so thankfully no crowd. We ordered two chicken soups and his ritual started. In an empty takeaway glass, first a handful of boiled shredded chicken was added (never seen anyone adding this much quantity). This was followed by adding a bit of chopped onions, Chopped Garlic, Chopped Coriander,Chopped Green Chilly and a few drops of Chilly infused vinegar. From a kettle kept on a gas stove on the side, hot chicken stock was added. Then a pinch of black pepper and some masala, may be chaat masala was added. Then he added a slice of butter and just before serving…….ola !! He squeezed a half of lemon on the top, stirred it with a spoon and handed over the glass.
The taste, once again, was amazing as last time. Now I could understand why the shredded chicken came in the mouth till the last spoon. Almost one third of the glass had chicken. The broth had a body. The ginger provided that sharpness to the taste but was balanced by the onions and the vinegar. The black pepper was supported by the chaat masala and the butter gave the glaze and richness to the broth. However, the entire bouquet of the flavours was uplifted by the juice of that freshly squeezed half a lemon. The soup was not sour or tangy but the lemon balanced the flavours, giving it a distinct taste which lingered on. It was for the first time I have seen someone adding lemon to the soup; albeit adding vinegar in Chinese soups is very common. It was a great experience for the palate and the pocket too. A glass of this divine concoction costs Rs 50 only. One could go back there easily.
Now it was the time for the second stop of the evening. Further down the same road, hardly a kilometer away, again tucked off the main jail road, was another roadside outlet dishing out omelettes. The signboard read ” Mithlesh Ande Vala” and yes there was quite a rush around the cart placed outside a shop which displayed this huge backlit signboard. A closer look at the menu display showed that he serves around 9 types of omelettes besides other dishes. Perhaps, egg dishes were his most popular ones. On the cart, behind two huge frying points there were two men in their thirties, donning jet black t-shirts with the logo MAV displayed on it, making omelettes. The signboard above said Butter Omelette is their speciality. Wearing t-shirts with their own branding conveyed that the outlet has a distinction and some equity of their own.
Straightaway we ordered “one plate butter omelette”. Quickly, the guy behind one of the frying points, cracked two eggs into a pot. Added some chopped onions, fresh coriander and green chillies and a pinch of salt. With a quick movement of hand he whisked the egg and kept it aside. Nothing great so far. Everyone does it like this, including in our homes. Then a thick slice of butter ( may be around 25 gms) was put onto the tawa. The butter melted instantly and quickly the beaten eggs were added over the melted butter. He then took four slices of bread. Two were touched on the eggs and once wet with the liquid, were kept aside. Two were kept on top of the liquid side by side and some more butter added. This time the quantity of the butter was very less. Once the eggs beneath the slices were cooked, the thing was quickly flipped. The omelette by now was almost done. I thought he would take it off the heat now. But no, there was something else to be added. First he sprinkled a dark masala over the omelette and just before keeping those two slices on top of the eggs which he had kept aside……ola !!! He squeezed half a lemon over the omelette, folded and cut it into quarter sized pieces and served in a takeaway plate. The omelettes were well done and crisp. The taste of the butter supported by lemon was great and unique. Again, who uses lemon in an omelette ? Never heard but the entire dish was flavourful. Still there was one particular flavour which was coming on to the palate as aftertaste. Was lingering on and I wasn’t able to make it out. It had something to do with mughalai hint but wasn’t clear. On asking, he shyly told the masala they sprinkle on it while cooking is meat masala. Oh ! Now the plot was clear. It was butter and the meat masala which were enhanced by the lemon juice. What a great combination ! And the over brown color on the egg was surely due to the masala. And the cost was just Rs 60. Thats what makes Mithlesh the famous andewala.
Both the above eateries have many commonalities. Both are in west Delhi and just a kilometer apart. Both are situated in unassuming corners yet famous in their own ways and have impressive clientele. Both are streetfood vendors and both are hygienic. Both use almost similar ingredients yet their dishes stand out. Why ? Both use fresh lemon juice towards the finishing of the dish and it is not over powering. The amount of juice used doesn’t make it tangy but helps in enhancing the flavours. Wow !!
So, Gondhoraj and its cousin Lemon is the common thread which is weaving the Magic of Flavours, whosoever is using it judiciously.