I am going home to coimbatore this weekend. It’s a momentous occasion because my dad’s retiring and with that event we may move out of the home I grew up in. While I was thinking about this all the good and bad times came flooding into my mind. Nothing more than how dad used to pick me up from school and we picked up a few evening snacks on our way home.
My evening snacks were an adventure for me. Everyday I would wait to see if my favorite snacks were available. Three of them specifically come to mind.
1) Chutney Sandwich
2) 25 paisa onion samosas
3) Kalaan (roadside mushroom)
Each of these three snacks have a particular set of circumstances under which their availability would be assured. This post is going to talk about how each of those three snacks was special in their own way.
Chutney Sandwich : The sandwich itself was nothing spectacular. It was two slices of white bread with butter on one side & a mint coriander & green chilli chutney on the other. There are two reasons this is special. I realized I hated sandwiches only because of the crust of the bread being left off (these guys removed the edges). The second reason is my mother. She would come home tired from office at 5:30. I’d wait patiently & hungrily from 4 till she came home so that she could work her magic on that sandwich. Within 15 minutes that sandwich would become something yummy. mostly, veggies that were leftover from my tiffin box or raw vegetables that I hated eating. In fact, it’s thanks to this sandwich that I even had any raw vegetables at all. I still hated carrot so all that would be added was cucumber, onion, tomatoes and if my mom had time/mood, boiled potatoes. On those occasions when potato roast was on the lunch menu, that would get added to the sandwich too. Those were my favorite sandwiches ever. I loved them so much, I sometimes used to run early from class to get those sandwiches (shop was close to my school) so that I could get them before they were sold out. I’ve had sandwiches that were more expensive, better crafted etc, but those sandwiches that first introduced me to the world of sandwiches remain by far my favorite. It’s a taste I still search for wherever I go.
25 Paisa Onion Samosas : In our school canteen, they had two types of samosas. One was the ‘regular’ samosa which sold for Rs. 1.50 & second was the ‘Bombay Samosa’ which sold for Rs.2.50 both of which were princely sums in my childhood. However, I didn’t like either because the 1.50 samosa had kabuli channa that was usually too hard for my liking and the bombay samosa was frankly too costly to be had daily. One day when I was coming back with my dad, he stopped to buy something from a kirana shop. I saw another shop nearby in that ‘complex’ which had a wonderful fried onion aroma coming out. It was a strange shop. It was not a bakery, nor was it a eating joint. In fact, I’ve racked my brain to picture it but I cannot think beyond the cashier on his desk and maybe two items that I’d eaten there. That was the first place I realized that samosas could be bought for 25 paisa!! I could get 6 samosas for the price of 1 in my canteen. My dad didn’t like them too much but I loved them. I used to buy 1 dozen samosas for 3 rupees!!! and I used to eat about 8-10 of them in the evening. they were bite sized samosas but they were AWESOME!! I still drool thinking about them. The samosas would have an oily but tasty coating with crisp skin at the corners and soft skin in the center of the triangle on the outside. The masala on the inside would just be spicy sauted onions that would be sweet from the onions and spicy from the green chilli. The combination was delectable (which explains why I’d have 8-10 of them as a teenager). Apart from their awesome taste, the reason these held such a special place in my heart is, the days my dad was late and I couldn’t get my favorite sandwiches, this samosa saved the day. Gradually, I began preferring them to the sandwiches 😛 sometimes ending up making ‘samosa sandwich’ myself and presenting it to my bemused mother when she came back. She hated oily food and usually made a face but she’d take a bite and give me the rest which I was more than happy to gobble up 😀 This samosa was probably my first comfort food/craving as well now that I think about it. I’ve never found them as good anywhere else. I still miss those damn samosas.
Kaalan (roadside mushroom) : In Tamil Nadu, specifically in coimbatore, the 90s saw a veritable boom of roadside ‘chat shops’ basically they would make one concoction of chole masala. one concoction of pani. some basic boiled yellow toor dal. However, the best thing in their shop (that I liked the most) was the gobi & mushroom :D. I discovered mushrooms very late in my youth, maybe when I was 15-16. I had this habit of watching all cookery shows with my mom. In those days in star plus every morning at 8 AM (I think) we used to get this cookery show with international chefs. I have no idea who they are now but I remember each of them specialized in a cuisine. One day I distinctly remember, the chef said he was making food with ‘milky white mushrooms’ I scoured every grocery store (since I’d accompany my dad for the provisions) and asked every vegetable vendor for mushrooms (because the dish had a green dot). I used to specifically say ‘milky white mushrooms’ but to no avail. Most didn’t even understand what I was trying to buy. One day my dad bought these packets with holes that contained little beautiful mushrooms with these little black dots on them. I was immediately reminded of Tintin and the shooting star with those red dotted things and realized my dad had bought mushrooms 😀 I was overjoyed to say the least. My mom without any internet or cook books randomly made some amazing curry with mushrooms that only moms can and since then it’s been my favorite ‘vegetable’. So back to me at the counter of this pani puri fellow and he said he had ‘kalaan’ I had no idea what that was but it smelt divine!! I went home and asked my dad what kalaan was and he told me it was mushrooms 😀 Yayyy!!! since then my evening snack became two packets/portions of that kalaan whenever I could. I had this specific way I wanted it to be cooked. I liked it to be cooked till it was dry so it shouldn’t have liquid but will be slightly wet. It should have a little crunch in the middle so not too much of the ‘juice’ they used for cooking the mushrooms. No ajinomoto because mom said it was bad for me. Extra raw onions on the top because I love raw onions. No lemon because it overpowered the taste. This was my love affair between my 10th and 12th board exams. If I was hungry, kalaan. Bored, kalaan. Going for a scooty drive, kaalan picked up. I loved it so much I even ate it for dinner if my mom made a vegetable I didn’t like (I was a brat then). The funny part is, I think the reason I loved it was for the masala. Frankly I don’t think there was too much mushroom in there. But the taste was DIVINE!!!
Anyway, ladies and gents, these were my favorite after school snacks growing up. I wish they were still available but the chutney sandwich place closed down. The onion samosas guy disappeared when I hit 10th standard. The kalaan guy made shit loads of money & is gone now from my neighbourhood. I still wish I could go and eat them sometimes. I search for them every time I make a visit home in hope that my memories can come flooding back and I have that moment of pure joy that always comes when you have your favorite after school snack after a long day of being lectured. Do you have any favorite after school evening snack that you still crave for? I’d like to know.