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(Gwalior is just a metaphor. This is the story of almost all the cities. Indians have suddenly become very adventurous in their gastronomic preferences)
Yesterday I went to the city after almost three years. Once upon a time, Maharaj Bada and Lashkar were known as the city in Gwalior. Any big purchase be it clothes, television or books, one had to visit the bada. But then city centre, the glamorous and new business hub came up and the glitz buried the staid and soon we forgot the Victoria Market and the spicy chaat and rich creamy mango shakes.
The roads have been widened and look far cleaner than during our younger days. A few new shops have sprung up. But apart from that not much has changed.
Unless you consider the food revolution no Food Invasion.
Momo has invaded Gwalior in a big way. There are small kiosks which have mushroomed everywhere. Surprisingly, the momos in these kiosks are more delicious than any I have ever tasted.
Gwalior during our childhood was staid. Food wise there wasn’t much choice. Samosas and kachoris ruled the snacks and Gaylord and Kwality were the only two decent restaurants for going out for dinner. Soon another one ‘President’ came up.
If you wanted any south Indian dishes, the only place was the Indian Coffee House or ICH for the students. Even today I feel, it dishes out the best sambhar and their idlis are the softest. Later many other good South Indian joints came up. Now even regular restaurants serve Idlis , vadas and dosas.
Chinese food for us for relatively unknown till we were in the pre-final year of the college. Maggi was just being introduced then.
We tasted our first Chinese only when we went to Dehradun for our short service commission. The waiter was a smart and a half guy. When we three hungry people entered the place, we had absolutely no clue as to what to order. We had a beefy friend who had more worldly knowledge than us. He called the waiter and imperiously asked the waiter what was the best dish.
He got an equally imperious retort, “Sir, a good marketing man will never criticize his own product.”
We asked him to come back after some time and immersed ourselves in the menu. But it looked like it was written in Chinese to us.
After much deliberation, we signaled the waiter and this time diplomatically asked him which would be a better choice vegetarian or non-vegetarian. Again we got a discourse on good marketing.
By this time Mr. Beefy was frustrated and hungry. When the marketing genius gave us the same stock answer, the angry friend rose to his full height dwarfing the waiter. He grabbed the shaken waiter’s lapel and look at him menacingly, “Now if you even mention marketing, I will make a keema out of you, never mind this is a Chinese restaurant. Now answer my question, what dish do you recommended.” The waiter’s poise had vanished and he blurted out a name. Satisfied, our friend ordered one dish. “Now another name” again he blurted out another one without any murmur.
But the food was divine and it turned us into a Chinese food addict.
I have tasted Chinese in more than five nations. They all taste different. My favourite is the roasted duck with pan cakes which I find only in the UK.
Coming back to Gwalior, soon chowmein became a house hold name and you didn’t have to look hard to find a good joint.
In this food invasion, Momo seems to be the latest entrant. As with the Idlis and the Chowmeins, the Momos have been welcomed whole heartedly by the denizens.
Gwalior indeed has come a long way!