I’d just joined my first job and was in training – at Ranchi. Had never travelled much in that part of the North earlier – my one earlier trip up North had been from Hyderabad straight up to Delhi, Kashmir and back down – like a plumbline! East and West of that plumbline was new country – to be marvelled over.
There were just two or three of us new recruits initially – a new initiative the company was trying out from the Institutes and therefore not much excitement. Then another batch of trainees – very senior General Managerial types landed up and life began to look up.
Lunch and dinner table had conversation and much jollity. The only older men I had been around were my family – dad and various uncles – and as we were not a very formal family, much ribbing had always been the order of the day. Not being too familiar with the heirarchy of the company – a very tall structure back then! – I was soon pretty much at home with the very senior trainees – giving as good as I got and playing carrom till late into the night.
The assistant manager who was in charge of our training was horrified – i laughed it off initially till he hinted it was just not “the done thing”! And so, taking his advice seriously, I was very formal at breakfast one morning. Many enquiries happened as to the state of my health – tabeeyyat tho theek hai, beta? Are you quite well, child?! That was how very formal corporate organisations in India used to work then!
The head of training who was in charge of the centralised training organisation for our very large organisation – took his job very seriously indeed. To the extent that meals would be planned to maximise ‘training impact’!!
Lunch would always be ‘continental’ – bakes and grills and very light desserts – so that people who were used to their afternoon ‘thali meals’ wouldn’t eat too much and snooze through the afternoon sessions – this was particularly true of the older, senior trainees! A couple of times, I caught one these guys trying to chat up the cook – “Arre yaar, just make two rotis for me, na? Kya pharak padega aapko?” What difference will it make? And the cook shaking his head sadly, “Nahin, saab… that S sahib maarega humko!” Will flay me alive! Both parties would then shake their heads over the unreasonableness of S sahib who would not understand the necessity of a “proper” lunch and a little nap afterwards!
I, being much younger, was quite happy with the ‘continental’ food at lunch but the chef’s real brilliance shone out with his Bihari fare!
Some of it is incredibly simple and incredibly tasty, like this quite extraordinary…
BHUNE TAMATAR KI CHUTNEY (ROASTED TOMATO CHUTNEY)
- Ripe tomatoes – 4
- Garlic flakes – 6-7 – mince
- Green chilies – 5-6 or more – mince
- Coriander chopped – 1 cup
- Mustard oil – 2-3 tbsp
Roast the tomatoes on an open flame or a grill. I skewer a line of them and roast them on a gas flame, turning over frequently till the skins turn black – 4-5 minutes. Investing in a skewer or shanghai-ing a steel knitting needle is a great idea for the kitchen!
Gently push them off the skewer into a steel dabba with a lid. Lots of recipes call for covering it with cling film and so on – but I am rather plastic-averse! So just push them into the dabba and lid immediately – for about 5-6 minutes. When you open the dabba, the skin slips off easily because the steam would have cooked the tomato skins. If you’re feeling lazy, just leave the skins on – it’ll taste just as good!
Mash the tomatoes with a potato masher or just chop very fine. Mix in everything else and voila- you have a smoky, yummy tomato relish with the sharp bite of mustard! An absolutely authentic Indian salsa!
Serve it as a side with khichdi or thick Bihari moti roti.