How interesting can a boiled egg be?
Well add some salt and pepper and you will see.
I was under the the Jogeshwari flyover on Mumbai’s Western Express Highway a couple of days back. By the Jaico signal which heads to JVLR. On the left side of the road as you face Goregaon.
I reached there in an auto-rickshaw, inching through snaking traffic, on menacing pot holed roads. Thankfully three days of continuous rain had stopped for a while. The ride would have been worse otherwise in the city which been ranked 116 in the world in terms of best cities to live in. Only a few cities like Dhaka and Tripoli came after Mumbai in the survey. The city with one of the world’s costliest real estate prices!
I had a long way to go that evening in my journey to far off Dahisar after work.
While I waited I thought I would take a quick bite. There was a little shop on the kerb. It sold bottled water and biscuits, chips and chocolates of unknown, possibly spurious, brands. Didn’t seem a smart choice.
The aroma of piping hot vada paos suddenly wafted across. Mumbai’s favoured snack on the go.
I followed the fragrant promise of piping hot potato vadas and soon reached a stall on the pavement. They were frying batata vadas and other fritters at the stall on the road. Quite a few people were eating there. Seemed like a good option. My sort of place.
But the stall was on a lane surrounded by mud and muck. The result of the recent rains. For a moment I thought that the deep frying would neutralise the germs. Should be safe. And then I hesitated. One of those rare moments when I chickened off from eating on the streets. Possibly the fact that I was headed to the hospital to visit my uncle in law who was down with malaria was playing on my mind.
I gave the vada paos a miss.
Yes, I hang my head in shame.
I then saw another stall a bit ahead on the pavement by the highway. There was a lady selling boiled eggs. Shelled. That seemed right. Hermeneutically sealed by nature.
I approached her and spoke to her in Hindi.
“Can I have an egg”
She broke into a big smile. Nodded. She had incense sticks in both her hands.
There was a man beside her – husband? helper? neighbour? – who politely asked “would you mind if she finished her prayers”.
I said “no”.
The lady smiled and swirled the incense sticks in the air and said a quick prayer. I was the first customer that evening.
She finished her prayers and cracked open the shell of an egg. I saw that she had pao’s (local breads), covered by a plastic sheet, by the eggs.
“Can you give me the egg in a pao?” I asked.
“Sure” she said. “Would you like it teekha (hot)”.
She cut the egg into two and covered the surface with salt, pepper, red chilli powder.
“Shall I heat your pao?”
“You can? That would be great.”
She immediately dived down with a pao in her hand. She had a little stove below the table and a girdle on it. She cut the pao in to two and placed it on the girdle and heated it.
She then stood up and packed in the boiled egg between the soft and now crisp outside bun. My seven rupee egg sandwich was ready.
I paid her as I saw a couple approach her and place their order. She took a boiled egg out for them and put it on the girdle and began to fry it.
“Do you make omelettes and burjee (masala scrambled eggs) too?'” I asked
“Yes”, she said with a big toothy grin.
I took a bite of my sandwich and slowly walked off.
A bite of goodness that left a fuzzy glow inside. The warm bread, the much maligned, and yet full of sunshine, boiled egg yolk, the touch of spice … a bite of love and goodness. Just what one needed in that grey evening surrounded by dust and traffic, the despair and desolateness of concrete.
This was the taste of heaven. Pure, simple, full of happiness.
The prayers she said worked for me.
I recently read this blog post by Anthony Bourdain. He writes:
“One of the things I’m always looking at as I travel around the world is “where the cooks come from”. And if there’s a regular feature, a common thread wherever you go in this world, it’s that the best cooks and often the best chefs come from the poorest or most challenging regions. And it is without doubt that the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.”
Yes, I want to go back and try out the omelette and anda burjee made by our boiled egg lady on the Highway.
I know it will be ‘ beloved and iconic’.