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Good food diaries – second day, third helping

It’s like your first dinner with a date – you take a while to gather gusto. Except for the food on the way you know little else. You look around and take in the décor with intensity, inspect the chandeliers, peer approvingly at paintings and nod at waiters. You laugh nervously, not mirthlessly, a few decibels above normal. You forget to drink water. 

Pachkoti – first date

In Pachkoti Hotel – the original, there’s an imposter even, apparently, which is the one you didn’t go to – I sat with my feet off the ground. One of my crew members had detected the dampness on his big toe as a mammoth rat which had refused to budge much. The paint that hadn’t peeled off was gaudy and the light as low as a seedy, top floor bistro in south Delhi where pick up is the main menu. But the petal arches beneath which we were seated reminded me of the florid ones of Musi Rani Ki Chhatri, a rending cenotaph in Alwar. I sat, rapt at the engrossing beauty and perfect symmetry. …a solemn reminder of the life, beauty and sacrifice of the eponymous queen…I had written earlier. I began narrating the tale, tearing a little, at the table. Everyone soon nodded off to be woken by the food.

Me and my crew are always lively when food is around. In fact, we are so full of spirit you can actually see bubbles in the air. Mutton keema kababs, vegetable tikkas, biryanis, curries. And countless of those delectably puffy rotis smooth as diapers. All topped with firni. Ah, Firni! Many moons ago my dad, a zoologist, had told me about carnivore lethargy. It was the reason, he said, lions and tigers in zoos were content and calm.

And unable to move, I decided.

Good Good

We were filming at Bahraich, an outpost district in Uttar Pradesh, close to Nepal border. Our guide was a true-blue Lucknow lad – proud about his land, courteous to guests and extremely knowledgeable about the best food joints. Besides the toothsome fare, what made the places memorable were the cavalier attitude to food presentation and the bill. The appearance of the food invariably reminded me of a soak splattered over the pavement. The bill always so low that more than once I asked the waiter whether he was sure he hadn’t made any mistake calculating. And hug him when he assured me he hadn’t.

Good Good…Dairy

No TripAdvisor ratings are flaunted from fibre glass cases nor does Food Panda offer to bring the fare to your doorstep. No proscription notes forbid your entry into the kitchen except for their own rebarbative interiors. It is open in most cases. One late afternoon in soft focus sunlight – winters reach the borders early – we stopped at Jaisawal, a roadside dhaba outside Nanpara. Seeing how much I relished the paneer, Baburam, the chief (only) cook, left his station and returned with a fistful of leaves plucked from a nearby field. He then ground it in his palm and sprinkled it over the remaining curry in my dish. My Master Chef! If I were from that galaxy I would have showered him with stars Michelin. It was delish, garnished with love. Baburam stood there curt and charming like the courtesy call following a successful degustation. So touched I was, I took his picture and sent it to somebody special.

As I write now sitting in my Delhi room, I texted the Lucknow lad for the exact location of ‘Good Good Hotel.’ ‘Good Good Dairy’ he replied. Good Good Dairy is in Nanpara town. What makes this hotel, er, dairy, legendary is the quality milk – from their own dairy farms – which goes into their food and sweet preparations. The pedas and burfis, halwa, gulab jamuns and rasmalais are gifting ideas for any dear sweet tooth. Their fame has spread wide and there are regulars from across the border.

All about second days

On our first day at Good Good, the proprietor showed us to our seats; the second visit he personally took our order. He was marking his gratitude for our appreciative patronage. Soon enough the cook also joined the curious, admiring onlookers with his utensil like a mohel summoned from the midst of work. The waiters espied us from a distance probably not to mistake sizing us up for tipping – almost an act of suborn in its timid, ecstatic consequences.

Baburam

The second time we went to Yadav’s, an eatery near Bhaukhara village, the owner met us with a platter of freshly cut paneer. Yet to order anything, this was on the house. With a flourish he sprinkled chaat masala over it and placed a pack of toothpicks along with it. Just short of wishing ‘Bon Appetite’ he repaired to his money desk. Surrounded by middens, Yadav’s fronted a sprawling wheat field. The fragrance of fresh earth mixed with dung, afternoon rays dappling the green golden, charpoys all around, a motor pumping sparkling water into a concrete tank, languorous people, fresh food… Why I strongly fancy trucking as a career option.

The day before we left Bahraich, there were some urgent shots to be canned from town as it was raining when we came in. Before we began work, we went to this little hole-in-the-wall basement bakery near the bus stand. Our second visit. Even before we emerged from our vehicles the regulars all trooped out to make space. Some we managed to drag back physically and cajole into joining us in our jalebi and fire-toasted maska buns and tea. Communally slightly restive, people with cameras invariably spell bad news for the locals and one by one they disappeared. To expiate for the abandonment perhaps, the owner laddie fed us hotter and hotter jalebis.

Hole-in-the-wall

Back at Pachkoti for the last time, our table was graced by local dignitaries from the chowk including the traffic cop who had prudently donated his standing space to moving traffic. He sat inside the hotel during the sunny and the rest of his office hours. A slight commotion in the kitchen and a portly, sweaty Bangladeshi in a lungi sauntered towards our table. He gesticulated at the table boys who brought ceramic katoris containing bones floating in glistening water.

Paya shorba.

Something which we had ordered on the first day we came here but had gotten over. Something which they refused to serve us the second day as it was late and hence not fresh. And it was thus they calculated our approximate dinner hour and made some fresh on our third day.

And we hadn’t even ordered it. 

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