Of food that does NOT feed the soul!

And so there we are – at a Greyhound bus station. Haven’t been to a bus station in India in decades, so look around with interest. It’s warm, it’s all metal, slightly grimy, a little fuggy, not terribly crowded and like every other place I’ve seen so far, so little noise! No hawkers, no families rushing around shouting instructions to children and spouses to put a handkerchief on that seat to reserve it, no bargaining with moongphalli (peanut) vendor, no arguing with the bus driver’s assistant (always referred to as the “cleaner” though I’ve seen them do a bunch of things but never seen them clean a bus) to hoist my bag right up there on top and tie it down carefully, mind you!

Helpful women employees though, assisting you with what you need to do and where to wait and all that. We are early (we are from Madras, remember? We are born early – so as not to miss the bus… that the dad has to take to his office after the mom has duly co-operated in a premature delivery… so that Thaatha-Paati (the grandparents!) can take their train for their theertha yatras (pilgrimage) without worrying about having to cancel their plans!

Arch tells me the bus doesn’t stop anywhere except one or two scheduled loo stops but not for lunch. It’s an eight-hour journey almost so we decide to pick up food to go. There’s a canteen thing at the bus station with packaged sandwiches – not a solitary vegetarian option! So we go out, walk several blocks in a circle (should that be a square?) – and I figure out what an American block is about… not a shop in sight.

We trail back to the bus station and examine the sandwich racks again… no one here seems to want anything that grew on a plant! We find packets of bagels – am excited – have heard so much about these. A few hours later, having finished packets of thattais (nippatlu – a kind of fried riceflour snack – totally delicious) and an apple each, we are STILL hungry.

Carefully cut open the bagel – it’s a blueberry bagel – hmmm… seems rather hard? – and smear the little packet of cream cheese that goes with it. ┬áBite into it – if I had to be polite to someone who had offered me one, I’d say “Interesting”. Since I don’t have to mind anyone’s feelings here, I just make a face! It’s cold, it feels clammy to my tongue and it tastes of almost nothing except dough and salt! This is a bagel?!

My daughter sees my face – “No, Amma, this is just a bad bus station bagel. Will get you a realy nice one in a proper bagel place!” I am relieved – surely America can’t be surviving on this stuff?!

My tummy is full even if my soul is not. I go to sleep as the bus drones through Indiana and Ohio… to dream of pulihora and appadams! The dream moves on and I’m setting up a bagel stall in Columbus. But inspired by Gujju ingenuity, it’s a chaatwaala bagel – in other words, a bilaayati bagel ka bharatiya baccha – a dabeli bagel, not to mention a far healthier version of the dough + cheese – any greens version! George Columbaris appears in my dreams and tells me it’s the best thing he’e ever eaten!

Here’s my…

BAGEL MAKEOVER – DABELI BAGEL

  • Bagels – 3-4 – sliced, very lightly buttered and warmed up on a pan
  • Patties – a mixtire of boiled and mashed sweet potatoes or potatoes, carrots and peas. Add chat masala, dried mango powder, cumin and coriander powders and red chili powders and salt. Shape into patties the size of the bagel and shallow fry till crisp
  • Lettuce shredded – 1 cup
  • Pomegranate seeds – 2 tbsp
  • Chopped onions – 3 tbsp
  • Chopped coriander – 2 tbsp
  • Mint chutney – 1/2 cup (1 bunch mint, 1 green chili, 1 tsp lime juice, 1 tsp sugar, 1/8 tsp chaat masala, 1 flake garlic, salt – grind in the mixer)
  • Date chutney or ketchup – 3 tbsp
  • Hung curd whipped with grated cucumber, a little crushed garlic and green chili – 3 tbsp
  • Sev – or any crunchy savoury crushed chips

Smear the mint chutney generously on one half of the bagel – inside side.

Smear the hung curd on the other half.

Add the lettuce.

Place the patty on top.

Drizzle tamarind chutney/ketchup. Top with pomegranate seeds and sev/chips and coriander.

Like the makeover?

Wanna open a stall at a bus station?