TWO POSTS IN ONE DAY!
What can I say? Words have been bubbling for days but either there was no time or no net connection. The "broadband" that we get in Delhi is like an Indian 'babu' (officer) -- temperamental, slow, very sarkari (beaurocrat-y).
So this past week, we visited Ujjaini-- an ancient and holy city in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It has religious claim to fame and is mentioned in the Purana's as one of the holiest sites in India. It is on the banks of the river Kshipra that is supposed to have originated from Lord Shiva's finger. And it is the home to a HUGE number of temples the most well known of these being the Mahakaleshwar Shiva temple. This is the only 'Swayambhu Jyotirlingam' in the world. That is, it is the site of a 'lingam' (one form in which Lord Shiva is worshipped) which originated by itself. That makes it a place where "....god came and stayed by himself and did not need an invitation from us..." in the words of our priest.
The town has many other interesting temples and traditions. Given the location of Ujjaini in the Malwa region bang in the middle of the country, this city has been at the cross-roads of all major cultural, religious & political movements in India be it marching armies or marching 'sadhus'. In order to get from the North to the south or from the east to the west, you have to pass through this region and this city.
This confluence is reflected in everything in the region! Rajathani, Gujrati and Marathi (the region has borders with all 3 states) cuisines, languages and cultures have come together in a different, softer avatara. Since my 1 day visit there largely consisted of a long puja on the banks of the river and then dashing from one temple to the next, I was not able to take many notes or many pictues. But I will share one really tasty snippet with you. And that is a popular breakfast dish 'Poha' or beaten rice.
Firstly, the region is one of the biggest and best producers of poha and secondly, I have NEVER eaten such a dish nor seen any recipe for poha like this. Our train stopped at 7.30am in a small town called Nagda, a few hours from ujjain. There was a huge crowd around a tea stall on the platform and the sight of a huge urn of fluffy yellow poha, topped with fresh corriander and served with a topping of fresh 'sev' namkeen......I just could not resist. Not only did I gulp down 2 helpings, I also had a conversation with the owner about how to make this divine variation of a standard dish. In the picture below, note the unique way in which the dish is kept warm over a huge pot of boiling water. If kept on direct flame for too long, the poha lose their fluffiness and are quite hard to eat.
Here is Govind's (guy in picture) recipe:
1 cup Poha, 1.5 tblsp sugar, oil+mustard seeds+turmeric powder+green chillies for tempering+tons of 'besan ke sev' and corriander for garnish.
Soak the poha in water for 7-10 mins till soft. In the mean time, heat 0.5 tsp of oil and add the mustard seeds. Once they pop, add everything else. Stir till incorporated- will only take 1-2 mins since the poha is already soft enough to eat due to soaking. Garnish with coriander and then with a heap of sev. Serve. The gujrati sweetness of the marathi poha interacts really well with the savoury rajasthani namkeen and the universal freshness of coriander.
Talking of namkeens......they are awesome here! I am sure you might have heard of "Ratlami sev'....well Ratlam is an hour from Ujjain.
There are many reasons for visiting/re-visiting Ujjain -- religious, cultural and culinary.......in particular one curry that I was dying to try out but could not -- Poppy leaf curry! The state of MP has quite a large cultivation of poppies (primarily for opium, unfortunately) and during season, this vegetable is very popular both for its taste as well as for ............other things! Reason to go back? Absolutely!