I was at Dadar last evening and was hungry after a long day at work followed by a meeting.
There was the promise of a fillet o' fish at the Golden Arches in front of me but I thought I would try some of the local food options instead. Aaswad was closed as it was Monday so I headed to another Maharashtrian favourite, Prakash, at Gokhale Road near Sena Bhavan.
Prakash is a lot older than Aaswad. It is not air-conditioned unlike the former. It has moved to a standby location recently since the building where it was is being redeveloped.
Luckily it wasn't too crowded at 7 pm and I got a table quickly. The place was neat and clean and you didn't feel hot. You share tables at these places with strangers. Service is prompt and with a smile. No tissue papers here so instagram before you start eating.
I decided to order a no holds barred, non slim fit, snack of puri with sukha (dry) potato bhaaji and a drink called piyush which is like a liquefied shrikhand or a very sweet lassi with cardamom flavor.
The gentleman sitting opposite me ordered a tamer pohe which is what my doctors would have been happier if I had ordered.
Unlike in Aaswad, they seem to have only Maharashtrian dishes at Prakash and the menu is trimmer. Folks around me were tucking into missals (served without pav) or sabudana vadas.
I must confess that I felt a bit daunted when I saw the puris. Deep fried and potatoes on the side was not what would go well in the confession box. I thought I would eat 2 and leave the other 2 behind.
Except Father, the puris were so good that I ate all 4 and washed them down with the super sweet piyush.
The puris were pleasantly, wee bit salty (which I liked), crunchy and had a very solid feel to them because they were made with wholewheat.
Different from the slightly sweet and thinner and yet crispy luchis, which are the Bengali version of puris, and are made with maida or refined flour. Here are the one's my granny makes.
Different again from the huge, round, ball like puris in Kanha Sweets in Amritsar which is served with a sweet and tangy potato bhaji. This bhaji at Kanha is different from the slightly pungent, mashed potato bhaji at Prakash and the garam masala based alur dom which is served with luchis in Bengal.
Which got me thinking.
What if I was a foreigner, who had puris in Prakash and went back thinking that I now knew what puris were?
Till I went back and had luchis at a Bengali's place and found them to be different.
There is so much complexity in Indian food that one can't really nail it through one or two interactions with it can one?.
For example, if one has one's first biryani in Nizam's in Kolkata and then then next one at Jaffer Bhai in Mumbai one will wonder why they both share the same name, given that they are so different in form, texture and taste.
Same with the crunchy and thick buttery benne dosas of CTR and MTR in Bangalore versus the paper thin and crisp dosas of the Udipi joints of Mumbai.
There are the intense discussions on the difference between Mangalorean and Goan sorpotels, albeit held within the confines of the Bandra Gym.
Or whether the same Bengali dish, alu posto, should have turmeric or not.
And they say that the taste of sambar differs in each of the South Indian States.
And one is not even talking of dishes that look similar, like the phuchka of Kolkata and pani puri of Mumbai, or Frankies of Mumbai and rolls of Kolkata, and yet taste so different.
So if you are new to India then take the time out to explore its various dishes and please don't reach any conclusions with your first bite.
There is more to come.