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Eating Out with Arvind Ballal

Much like the rising sun and the sunset, I had my daily task of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it never occurred to me that thindi was better than oota

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It all began with the Batata Wada, for me, one can conceive the fall of the apple and the theory of relativity, but not the gastronomic contraption called peth puja in India.

I have never been a foodee, the circus my mother had to endure, to feed me during my childhood could be compared to the trapeze at the golden circus that came to Mumbai. My mother one and only aim was to feed me and make me from Nitran Singh alise Kadi pail wan to Arvinda the pail wan, she managed to do it, but it took a good 25 years to show, and when it showed the doctors told me mind your body. So much for the oota oootha.

Much like the rising sun and the sunset, I had my daily task of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it never occurred to me that thindi was better than oota, till I went from primary school to secondary. I was introduced to batata wada and somosa, it was not with much fun fare, but succumb to peer pressure. Homi samosa and canteen batata wada. It was not easy task with a pocket money, in paises I virtually had to dig into my pocket to get it out, we used to wear dada konke type chaddies, they were stitched so large that it had to last for next two years and then pass on to my younger relatives, so you can as well imagine the large deep pocket. Samosa and batawada was 5 paisa, and slowly the aroma, the taste buds of my tongue, and the eating out euphoria took me in. the incessant craving for food

Eating out was considered to be a privilege of the rich or not so rich, and we were neither of these, so an indulgence in such behaviour was an act of rebel. It was not that our parents could not afford, if we can eat at home why out!! My mother would always tell me ‘God knows what oil they fry, or if the vegetables are cleaned before cooking, and since they have to make a profit they will resort to some adulteratation’. It was true we could not afford to have an extra meal everyday, and we were like all, frugal in our spending.

Going to a hotel was only when we went to Udupi by bus, the first Hotel Satkar, at Pune where we used to have a cup of tea, and then Ramdev ( Belgaum.) Ramdev was like a mirage in the desert for us, we saw  it but could not experience it, we would not enter for lunch, as the owner knew my father and mother and he would not take money for the lunch we ate. Hence we used to end up eating kadabu or idly made from home, but after several years when the hotel became so popular, that he could hardly see us from the counter with a sea of bus travellers entering his hotel to have their first meal after Mumbai we managed to sneak in unnoticed and eat our thali. Probably this was the first of the eating out with family we used to crave for.

College canteen, I being the general secretary of the collage student union, our post and pre union meetings were in the canteen. My professor would tell me “should I come to the canteen to take your attendance”. …They should have they missed patti samosa, patatochips, the french-fries which were so deep-fried it had a thin layer of oil, looked liked each one of them were lacquered with oil…. we all ate it but I survived on it.

Started working, all the udupi Sri Krishna hotels feed me…from idly to doses to bhajyas, from the by lanes of king circle matunga, and the margs in fort and masjid bunder.

Graduated from Udupi hotels to Punjabi, Chinese, and to multi- cuisine fine dining, eating out became a habit longed for ghar ka khana hotel barabar, not visa versa.

Never realised, that eating out was the in thing but what went in was not the good thing for the intestine. It took a good 40 years for me to realise I was an incorrigible foodee

Batata wada that was a staple food for the mill workers became the survival food for everyone on the move in Mumbai. Mills closed but the batatawada survived, samosa

that was only dished out in theatres came to the small stores and street hawkers, finally the bhel wala had competition. But there are several foodies like me who wanted more, then came pavbhaji, but batatawada was a superstar and is even today. Interestingly batatavada has to be eaten out, the crispy crust, the garlic twist and the tangy chutney or flaky sukha chatni can never be made at home; the grime the dust, the burnt oil, and the whiff of lapping flame at the gas burner can never be replicated at home. I have travelled to the four corners of Mumbai to try out this super star batatawada, from  khidki wada of kalyan to fort, dombivily, to girgaum and dadar. I could get a doctorate for my research.

Eating out, any where out, even if I was marooned on an island where I would not know the local dialect I would find some thing to eat, many a times I have discovered a good   eating joint and also inform the local friend who would be surprised by my ingenuity.

Never did I dream that eating out would become a life style for many, a socio economic barometer of the haves and have-nots, a punitive state of existence, we started to live to eat and not eat to live.

The world became smaller, the culinary plates became bigger, and variety of food a ballet to the taste buds of millions

An evocation for survival became a life style. Eating out…. out and out.

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