Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Railway Journey Food :Towns Unlimited

This is how my parents travelled and visited dining cars in their train travel. Its a pity we let go of the fabulous institution of the railway dining car, apart from the contrived and over priced palace on wheels, which also have modern and tacky luxury coaches and dining cars, since they were converted to broad gauge.

Its seldom we see modernity and tradition being married together. I remember stories told by father about the luxurious rail travel, a travelling salesman from the late 50s- through the 60s and some part of 70s until he switched to air travel. Travelling with an orderly, always first class with bandobast for the chotta peg (scotch) and tin of cigarettes (state express 555). He was working for a english boxwallah company. The railway dining car, the dining rooms and the retiring rooms in towns and moffussil Casbahs were particularly luxuriant especially when travelling in first class. Its poor cousin would be the Kingfisher First Lounges in India today.

Food was nice and developed a fan following with many chefs, the railway food has been glamourised in the Raj era cusine and the Anglo India Cuisine, Railway mutton cutlets (with and without gravy), railway mutton curry at the Tiffin at the Oberoi. Th Oh! Calcutta Anglo Indian menu plagiarises the railway menu of that era. Even restaurants in London, the old and famous Coomaraswamy, erstwhile Chutney Mary and the three year old Sola Topee in Gurgaon glamourise and apes what is basically the erstwhile railway food.

Travelling up to Shimla from Kalka in first class in 1990, which is pretty much the current era, as a family, Dad challenged what would you like to order for lunch.We said get real we will get cold thalis. We got the option of tea in a set on the go (in the train) and fresh chicken curry and rice, served at Barog, railway station refreshment room. Yes it did happen. He got a wire sent through the railways with our order. He knew the beat and the system, therefore he struck a rapport with the old timers and extracted the last show of the Raj opulence for his family.

Many such stories, rendevous of my parents in the retiring room in Barielly, my dad travelling on work from Lucknow, my mom though married, finishing her final year at Miranda house. They agreed to meet at Barielly for sneaking a weekeend at Nainitalin the late 50s. The quality of retiring rooms was pretty good and the corporate world piled on to the government machinery (the retiring rooms, the dak bungalow, the circuit house, forest rest houses, PWD rest houses in the absence of decent hotels). I have exprienced some even in my time.

The railway restaurant in Barog and perhaps 300 others were termed railway refreshment rooms, were run by the Spencers chain (which is now acquired by RPG enterprises and runs retail chains). Spencers were always in the retail business, ran stores in the high street of urban India and also stores in Cantonements and Tea Plantation towns and hill stations (basically where there was a clientle). More importantly, the hotel and restaurant business with the Connemara in Madras (Now with The Taj), and of course the railways and the retiring rooms and the liveried waiters. The yummy continental food. One does see a hint of that even today, in a weak genetic strain.

In my research, on railway food I came across this mailway menu designed a few years ago. You can see the continental food lineage of the Spencers http://www.nr.indianrail.gov.in/scripts/static/Miscellaneous.aspxtrains of Catering A-La-Carte items sold in the Pantry cars, Refreshment Room/Stalls (w.e.f 1.6.2003), one still sees roast mutton , chicken cutlets, tea and coffee in a set.the genetic code is still alive.

The railways and its peripheral facilities were used by lots of well to do people as a hub, to rest, change, recuperate, eat drink and meet. There are interesting films in the Hindi film circuit, which have the retiring rooms as the back drop of the story, especially the Rekha, Anooradha Patel and Naseeruddin film of the 80's called Ijazzat. A must see, which raises the nostalgia of train travel.The fantastic hotel on the beach (now receeded, and taken over by the Chanakya group of Patna) at Puri and Ranchi called the BNR Hotels... Bengal Nagpur Railway Hotel. All relics of the Raj, offerered unique and differentiated experiences.

Why did we let it all ago to immerse ourselves into the aluminium foil and styrofoam culture we eat and drink like this in the railways now Pictureses attached

Though a recent thread on Indiamike.com recently made a mention of interesting foods on the various stations in the Indian circuit. There are still some hidden gems and experiences. Like my Grandfather said, good visual beauty and locales in the journey, usually bad food on the stations, bad locales and boring journey great food. Lucky to get both. My favourite staions are on the Kalka- Shimla railway line, including Kalka, awarded the cleanest station many time over, of course Barog (as mentioned before) and Sheogi, short of Shimla on a saddle awesome beauty.

Stations to visit and eat the following specialities (picked from Indiamike.com)

Pune - Tea, Misal, and Patties in the canteen Karjat - Batata vada / vada pav (Potato snack) Lonavala - Chocolate Fudge / Cashewnut Chikki (cashewnut brittle candy) Neral - Seasonal Jambhool fruit Khandala - Seasonal Jamoon fruit (plums) Solapur - Kunda (sweet barfi) Kolhapur - Sugarcane juice Miraj - Saar and Rice Hubli - Hubli rice (Curd rice (yogurt rice) with onions, chile peppers, and pickles) Mysore - Dosa Tiruchirapalli - Bondas in several variations Hyderabad - Chicken biryani Calicut (Kozhikode) - Dal vada Quilon - Rasam Mangalore - Egg Biryani Ernakulam - Fried yellow bananas Nagpur - Bhujia, and oranges Guntakal - Mango jelly Chennai Central - Samosas, idli, dosa Rameshwaram - Idiuppam (Rice Noodles) Agra - Petha (candied pumpkin) New Delhi - Aloo chat (tangy potato snack) Indore - Farsan Ahmedabad - Vadilal ice-cream Surat - Undhyo (mixed vegetables) Ranchi - Puri bhaji Howrah - Sandesh Amritsar - Lassi, Aloo paratha Bangalore - Vada sambar, fresh fruit juices Jaipur - Dal bati Gandhidham - dabeli Varanasi - Seasonal amrud fruit (guava) Gorakhpur - Rabdi (a sweet made of milk and sugar) Guwahati - Tea (Assam blend) Madurai - Uthappam (spicy lentil/rice pancake) Ajmer - Mewa (Mix fruit) Vasco-da-gama - Fish curry/cutlets Ratnagiri - Mangoes, dried jackfruit Vijayawada - Fruit juices Rajahmundry - Bananas Daund - Peanuts Tirupati - Ladoos, sevai Londa - Jackfruit Allahabad - Motichur ladoos Ambala - Aloo paratha Puri - Halwah Bhubaneshwar - Dal and rice Coimbatore - Sambar-rice, tamarind-rice, lemon-rice Dehradun - Salted cucumber Gwalior, Bhopal - Boiled chickpeas with chile peppers Surendranagar - Tea with camel's milk Anand - Gota (fenugreek fritters), and milk from the dairy farm there Khambalia Junction - Potato/onion/chili fritters Dwaraka - Milk pedhas Viramgam - Fafda (ganthiya), Poori + Alu-bhaji Pendra Road - Samosas Manikpur - Cream Thanjavur - Salted cashewnuts Bharuch - Peanuts Maddur - Maddur-vade Chinna Ganjam - Cashewnuts Gudur - Lemons Panruti - Jackfruit Virudunagar - Boli (a thick sweet flat bread) Sankarankoil - Chicken biryani Srivilliputtur - Paal kova (a soft milk-based sweet) Manapparai - Murukku Abu Road - Rabri Agra- Milk Bar,Rabri at Etawah, Samosas at Mecheda on the Howrah Puri route. Rice & chicken curry at Barog.Sitabhog & Mihidana at Burdwan.Langchas at Shaktigarh.Omelletes at Mirage.Chicken cutlets at the cafeteria in Howrah station.Gulabi Rewris at Lucknow.Pethas at Agra.

More on travel soon. Will be happy to know your favourite food experiences and favourite train journey.
So Long


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