Kachoris and alu tikkis in India's Pink City, spiked with memories of a Pretty Woman. A food walk in Jaipur's Johri Bazar

A welcome to Jaipur alu tikki chat

Pretty woman walkin' down the streets

We all have movies which we have seen during our formative years and whose stories or scenes have left an impression in our minds. One of these in my case would be the Julia Roberts Richard Gere starrer, Pretty Woman. I saw it when I was in high school so I am not sure if that would qualify as my 'formative years,' but there is no denying the fact that for folks in my generation it was one of the most memorable Hollywood romances. Among its many scenes that stayed back with us well after we watched the movie (many of us caught the reruns on TV later) was one where Richard Gere's character takes Julia Roberts' in his private jet to see a play or an opera and then fly back on the same day. Seemed like epitome of coolness back them. Swag as we call it now.

While I had to do a YouTube search to jog my memories of the scene I just wrote about, I do vividly remember the fact that my classmates and I had gone to Nizam's at New market to have a biryani before we went to watch Pretty Woman in 1990. Or was it 1991?

It all came back to me last Friday afternoon when I flew down to Jaipur for a very short visit. Specifically, a two hour visit to Johri Bazar to check out food markets and to try out some of the street food there before I headed back to Mumbai at night.

It was meant to be a longer than 2 hour visit that it turned out to be at the end. Let me explain why. There were not too many flights in the morning from Mumbai to Jaipur. I had booked myself on the 11.15 am Air India flight but received an email in the morning saying that it had been rescheduled to 2.15 pm. We later learnt that this was because the runway at Jaipur had been shut that day till 4.30 pm suddenly. Don't ask!

I must add though, that I was really impressed by the young, efficient and well cabin crew of Air India. I was flying the national airline after ages and this was quite a pleasant change from what I remembered of it.

Yes, yes, it was not a private jet. There was no Pretty Woman by my side. No, I did not watch an opera there, but hey its the movies after all. The La La Land of day dreams. So let us not get too pedantic about it.

I had gone to Jaipur on work to join a group of folks from across the world who were exploring the local food scene guided by local experts from Delhi Food Walk. I broke into a smile the moment I reached Jaipur, which is also called the Pink City, after driving down wide roads from the airport. The skies were blue even at 6 pm. There were a number of cycle rickshaws going past the Albert Hall Museum as if on a procession. Carrying foreigners in them. "Angrez logo ko rickshaw pasand hain," (the westrners love rickshaw rides) said my cheerful Ola cab driver. I told him that I had grown up in Kolkata and was no stranger to cycle rickshaw. "Aap ka nature bahut achha hain," (you are a nice guy) he kindly told me with a smile when I got off. Jaipur is home to some of the warmest and most tourist friendly folks around as I had noted even in my earlier visits to the city.

I was to meet up up my fellow explorers at Johri Bazar. I waited in front of the Hanuman Mandir. As I looked at the shops painted in pink, it struck me that there are very few other places in India which are as 'made for Instagram,' as the Hawa Mahal area of Jaipur is. It is another issue that one only sees posts from five star hotel resorts on Instagram from Rajasthan these days!

In grandpa's footsteps

Remembering dadu while having peyaz kachoris at Jaipur. On seeing the pic
my aunt told me that my late grandpa was fond of 'all sorts of bhaajis'

While I waited for our group, I saw a message from my mom on our whatsapp group reminding us that it was my late grandfather's birthday that day (1st Nov). I smiled when I saw the message. If there was one thing that Dadu really loved to do, it was to travel. 

I remembered how he would always tell me to follow my heart and do what makes me happy. Keep your chin up and smile, he used to tell me when he saw how traumatised I was by maths and science in plus two. He was the one who suggested that I shift to the arts instead in college ,which was not the very 'guy thing' to do back then. Whether it was studying a subject like sociology in college, which was so new then, or joining a market research agency after my MBA, a profession that was not well known then either, dadu would always encourage me to go ahead with the path I chose. He himself had travelled on many pioneering paths in his own life after all. Be it coming to Kolkata by himself to study, or living in places such as Allahabad or Delhi where no one from his family had before or taking up professions such as physical training and then library sciences that were so new in his time and was a gazetted officer in the central government. An achievement that was stupendous for a self made man from a humble background. As my grandmother once said, he was always on the lookout to see how he could move ahead in life.

As I stood watching the chaos on the streets in front of me and listened to evening arti at the Hanuman Mandir, I felt a sense of immense calm. I realised that it was no coincidence that I was in Jaipur that evening, doing what dadu loved to - travel and to meet people from across the world and introduce them to India - following my dreams in a sense.

I could feel dadu smile at me from up there.

Vinayak's Johri Bazar Food Walk

I connected with our group soon and then we set off on our Pink City food walk led by the Delhi Food Walks team with a young local named Vinayak acting as the food expert.

I hardly took any pictures that evening I am afraid, but I wish I had, at least at the vegetable market that we went to. Especially of the dark green cucumbers I saw there which reminded me of the ones we used to get in Kolkata and the fresh and plump bright red chillies as well.

We then walked down the lanes of Johri Bazar, where we were enshrouded by the aromas of the excellent quality spices kept in open sacks and jars. Aromas that brought back childhood memories of going to the moordir dokan (grocery stores) in Kolkata, where everything was sold loose, for me. Flavours that today's sanitised supermarket frequenting generation do not have the good fortune to know.

We were taken down the winding alleys of Johri Bazar, as dusk began to set, in by Vinayak. First to a 60 year old shop to have freshly fried aaloo tikki chaats and then for some nicely done Bombay bhel and veg sandwiches on the street.

Then to a 180 year old pickle shop for some pickle tasting. 'They call me India's pickle man on YouTube,' said the owner with a beaming smile of welcome. I tasted the onion pickle at his shop and each peel exhorted me to come back for a longer stay next time.

We then headed to a pakora shop which did not have the peyaz kachori that I had hoped to have in Jaipur before I headed back to Mumbai. He had stopped making snacks which had onion in them, explained the owner.

So we went to another stall a few yards away. Once again, 60 years old. Piyaz kachori please, I said.

"Ours are better than Rawat's," said the elderly gentleman who ran it. In the spirit of the chaat shops that surrounded him, he too doused the freshly fried kachoris with tamarind and coriander chutneys. Made the end result a bit different from Rawat's where the kachoris is the hero and where it is served sans chutney, but hey when it comes art, you cannot have a template can you?

It was time for me to head back to the airport. "Take a motorised rickshaw to Albert Hall," said our young Vinayak. "Easier to get an Ola or Uber from there."

It turned out to be sane advise as the cabs that I booked at Johri Bazar kept cancelling on me. More good came out of this detour as I did have some pani puris (someone told me that like in Lucknow, they too call it pani ke batashe here) at a stall outside Albert Hall. I noticed that they had mashed potato in the filling and this tempted me to try it. I heard a smattering of Bengali among those waiting and asked "phuchkar moto?" Is it like the phuchkas of Kolkata? "Hya," yes, they replied and I joined in.

They were not wrong. Barring the slightly strong garam masala hit, they pani puris did evoke memories of the phuchkas of Kolkata and then my Ola arrived and I headed off the airport after having had my Pretty Woman moment in Jaipur. Wondering whether there was a connection between the phuchkas of Kolkata with the pani ke batashe of Jaipur and the north. Just as there is in the case of our khasta kochuris. That is a topic for another day.

My return flight to Mumbai was delayed too. This was on Spice Jet. There were heavy rains in Mumbai which meant we were up in the air for a while after starting late. The visibly well skilled pilots and the good (ex Jet airways) aircraft ensured that we did not feel anything. The food - chicken tikka and egg biryani - was remarkably clean. I did a #chetepute - wiped my plate clean - which I have not done with an airline tray in years.

What's the moral of the story? What did we learn today?

This is not a 'where to eat in Jaipur' story. It was not really a proper food walk as we were all multi-tasking while on the walk that evening. Which is why I do not have much details in terms of the addresses, names or the histories of the shops we went to, but then does every story have to end with a lesson or useful information.  At times it is just good to soak things in than to dissect them too much. What do you think?

Is Jaipur the best place in India to eat kachoris and tikkis? Were these the best places to stop for kachoris and tikkis in Jaipur? These are not questions I plan to answer here. You cannot do that on the basis of a two hour long trail can you?

I am not being diplomatically correct in case you wondered. I enjoyed every bite that I took there. Be it the tikki chaat, the bhel, the sandwich, the onion pickle, the peyaz kachori and pani puri. I really did!

What I can assure you though is that the couple of hours that I spent that evening were as good 'a welcome back to Jaipur,' as any one could get. The walk left me me with a feeling of joy and happiness. Of feeling alive. What more could one ask out of a trip?

Vinayak of Delhi Food Walks was kind enough to share the name of the places we went to with me and here they go. He tells me that many years of research went into his finding out these places and the confidence with which he showed us around leaves me with not doubt about this. I am sure that he had a lot of chaat in the process too. All for a good cause!

Tikki: Ram chat bhandar at Ghee waalo ka raasta,
Pickle: Vijaylal Acharwala at Gopalji ka raasta
Bhel at stall located on intersection of Gopalji ka Raasta and Johri Bazaar.

Peyaz kachori: Lalaji Pakorawala


I think this is the scene I was referring to in Pretty Woman:

The post I wrote on my grandpa when he passed away
My post from my previous Johri Bazar visit
My post on when I first went to Rawat and fell in love with the peyaz kachori there
To read more about my Jaipur memories, do read my book, The Travelling Belly. Here's where you can buy it.