Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jai Jawan : An Indian Army Soldiers, Food Guide.

Napoleon did say an Army marches on its stomach. The corporate jugglers often say that most battles are won on an empty stomach. Its hard to tell who is right.

The Indian soldier, comes, from largely a rural background and represents a large amount of diversity from the regions, states, clans, tribes. However the greatest leveller is the food in the langar. There are a few nomenclatures or terms of reference, I would like to clarify at the outset (using the language of an Indian officerspeak).

Langar :Cook house and dining hall for ORs, ie other ranks including non commissioned officers or NCOs). The cook is called langari.You see a world war two langari here.

Tadka group :A group of Jawans who are friends, who temper their food with Ghee, tomatoes, onions and chillies to make it tasty and sometimes edible.

Issue day : The day of the week when rum is issued to ORs on payment or free, largely coincides with the meat preparation day.

Badakhana: Feast which happens at the platoon, company and Battalion in a unit, to mark a celebration, event or a festival, with food drink and singing and entertainment.

Rations :The amount of cereals, meat vegetables and condiments issued individually or enmasse to the troops Langar.

Fresh: Loosely Vegetables, Fruit, Meat and eggs issued twice or thrice week.

Field Rations : Usually issued to High altitude areas, or Field areas, with liberal use of largely unpalatable or dated tinned food as in fruit, vefetable, meat (which needs definite intervention from the Tadka group). Sometimes experimental (packaged food) stuff from DRDO (defence research and development oraganisation), the same guys who contribute in putting together missiles and nuclear devices.

MOH: Meat on hoof, alive goats to be slaughtered at the unit level.

Wet Canteen :An institution to hang around, also called the Bania, stocks cold samosas, pakoras, sweets and mithai made few days ago. Stocks all spurious and cheap brands for easy and quick buys and 5 minute shopping at odd hours. A huge lifeline and help in far flung areas. Also extends credit on goods and is a moneylender.

A day in a soldiers life starts ( in field or in peace) with the smell of puris from the nearby langar. These puris are the size of a big tandoori roti and have salt and red chilli powder as the seasoning. These are eaten by the handfull with hot tea.A rare treat is Aloo ki subzi or petha subzi (pumpkin). In the field officers usually eat the same food with aloo and mirchi chips and sometimes anda bhujiya with lots of onions and green chillies. The soldier sticks to the puris pretty much all around the year. Breafast is between 7 and 8am. However, you eat, when you get a chance.

The tea at mid morning is namak para, shakar para or a sugary ball of gram fried and called a bonda. This sometimes supplemented by samosas, besan ladoo or burfi from the wet canteen. These are are usually paid by the person who loses a bet based on physical or mental prowess.The payback is stuff from the wet canteen.

Lunch is usually a hot meal, rotis with lots of atta stuck on them (they have to be clapped together to get the atta or flour off), subzi (vegetable any seasonal stuff depending on fresh ration, aloo gobhi, gajar, just aloo), and dal which is the langar dal. Vegetarian platoons get milk instead of meat and eggs and the Jats make great kari pakoda. There is sometimes egg curry but seldom meat, unless its muslim unit or sub unit. There is rice nearly everyday. So basic stuff , Roti, subzi, dal and rice. Most soldiers have all of it served in one utensil (quite like sai baba), rather than take aThali and eat it comfortably. Some just reat out of a saucepan or mess tin (put in the dal and subzi together) and scoop it out with rotis. Whilst there some who eat zestfully with supplementing with a salad of tomatoes, onions and cucumer with green chilli. Procured from the wet canteen or the nearest habitation and brought in by a dispatch rider. He is usually the lifeline of lesser the mortals with the outside world.

Evening tea is hurried affair and seldom consumed and usually nothing other than plain tea. Busy with games allocation of work or just plain "working" or fatigue.

Dinner on issue day adds buoyancy in the stride as issue days are usually coupled with meat ration or fresh ration days. Most persons take the effort to bathe and dress in mufti's the tadka group gets active. The ghee from home in the kit bag is taken out, the disptch rider has been ordered with the required condiments and masalas and we are all set. Rum is issued after the roll call. The menu tonite is Meat, usually a spicy curried meat with lots of gravy. Its a delight to eat it with the rajputs, they make it the spiciest best. Eaten with flour dusted rotis (now you don't care) and pretty much nothing else, although there is dal, subzi and rice. The treat is meat curry (hot) with rotis or just with hot rice. Sometimes there is kheer. Now is the time for idyllic bidis and sometimes drunken brawls. the day has come to an end. The guys who do not drink do the guard duties whilke the tipplers rest it out. Huge camraderie. There is a simplicity to this life. Sometimes too simple, pickle, savoury or sweet makes all the difference in and otherwise humdrum life. More on the Badakhana later.

Now a quick question to the army buffs what is this metal contraption called ?

So Long !

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cantonment food of the Mughals : Nahari

Imagine eating Shanks of Meat cooked to a tender mish mash of meat , gravy and flavours with rotis early in the morning for break fast. Welcome to the world of Nahari, Paya (Kharode in Punjabi and Trotter's Gravy or stew in English) Halim. Why in heaven would anybody start the day with a bang (meat, spices, fat) with thick rotis.

Most urban sensibility, would say, can't handle such stuff in the morning, maybe after a bout of mindless drinking, such spicy and flavour full food is okay. Hang on, Nahari at the crack of dawn was not designed for you and me. It was designed as Lashkari Khana (Cantonment food), for the robust medieval soldier of the armies of the Turko Afghans, Persian Invaders and armies on the move, an animal (a large one, could feed a few hundreds). The added flavour and the fix of carbohydrates would sustain the soldiers till the evening meal.
Nahari, the traditional early in the morning breakfast has a home in the Muslim residential areas. Its a dish cooked in Degh (as big as 500 litre water tank), shanks of beef (thigh), cooked to a consistency of a gravy or paste with over 36 spices and laden with fat called "ghee".The well known artisans are in Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal ,Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkatta. I am sure there are hidden ones in Barielly, Kanpur, Aligarh and several other medieval cantonments of India.
My first and extreme experience was a few weeks ago in Delhi. The famous Nahari joints (cannot call them restaurants, which are based on the precincts of the walled city, each precinct has one famous one) apart from Karims are Haji Noora, Sarabati, Kallu Nahari, Siddique etc.I joined a group of enthusiasts from a community called eating out in Delhi. We met at the crack of dawn at 7 am at the metro station Pul Bangash took a short trek to Bara Hindu Rao area and not the hospital (headed to Filmistan, a road adjacent to the mouth of Bahadurgarh road) lead me to Haji Noora. He is known as the high priest of Nahari, has been around for nearly three to four decades in this avtaar I am sure its an ancestral art from the times of Babur and before).
We step into Haji Noora's cook house cum eatery, remove shoes and settle in with a melee of morning breakfasters, ranging from (us Discovery Channel types, is what we are referred to), to beggars, chowkidaars, shopkeepers, workers and enthusiasts. We crowd in, the Head of Nahari service Shaifuddin (serving it with utmost arrogance) asks with ghee or without. We say, without, its already swimming in fat. Head of Rotis, regards us with a little circumspection (Discover Channel Types you know), serves Rotis as they come out of the Tandoor (an army of people at the assembly line of rotis). After six Naharis and Rotis and a princely sum of Rs 144/- as the bill, we immerse in the eating.
My enthusiasm does not allow me to overcome the lack of hygiene (which reminds me of my grandfather and then, my mothers quote, Food- cooked by a muslim chef in hindu kitchen served on the table in english style). As muslims khansamas, are legendary in their cooking prowess, hindu kitchens are known for the cleanliness and the British in the pre partition India were known for the table service). The Nahari is at best a very spicy and a flavourfull gravy with very tender and pulverised paste of the meat and marrow. Its served in a chipped white enamel bowl, with Maida rotis which are nice. They have run out of Nalli Nahari and are soon running out of Nahari Its only 7.45 am The room has green paint and an old framed article from a hindi newspaper. All the workers clothes and belongings in nooks and crannies. Its an experience try it.

We walk out and have something sweet Suji (semolina) Halwa (like fudge) , with a piece of a massive Puri, its served as, some halwa on this bed of puri or Bhatura. Its sweet and its Rs 10/- per pop or person. Its well well below my under Rs 100/- local exotica (eating out guide of a salesman) this was at Rs 34/- a person. For nearly bRs 210/- six persons ate well. This is in October 2008 with an all time high inflation in India. Which goes back to my earlier post on cost of Muslim food, its got to do with the propensity to pay by the, largely muslim clientele and the economies of scale of large volumes in Muslim eateries in India.
Now, to all the Nahari enthusiasts, spot the Haji Noora outlets in pictures 1, 2, 3 or 4. Will write more on the food of the contemporary Indian soldier.
So Long !