Sundeep Bhutoria

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Monday, December 15, 2014

My first visit to the Malwa region

15 December, 2014, Indore: I am in Indore at the ITC’s Fortune Landmark hotel. This hotel is much better in terms of service than the standards at an average Fortune chain.
What I heard was that earlier it was a Taj property and will soon become a property of the Marriott. I was quite surprised to know that yesterday there were in all 14 functions at the hotel at the various locations and banquets. It was so evident as the lobby and lifts were packed with men, women, visitors and guests.
Somehow in India, whichever part of the country you are in, marriages and marriage functions have become more a showcase event and flaunting one's wealth and this seems to be on the rise. Same as the wedding destinations that began from Jaipur, Udaipur and went on to Goa and on to Bangkok and Malaysia and then spreading all the way to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From last couple of years interiors of Spain and France and other picturesque smaller cities are also hosting big fat Indian weddings.
At the Chhapania Market, Indore
I arrived in Indore yesterday and this is my first trip to this Malwa region. The city, which is the birth place of living legend Lata Mangeshkar, is also called the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh. For the foodie, I think Indore is the Mecca.
Yesterday, immediately after are checking in, I went to a market called Chhapania. The name traditionally means means chhapan pakwan i.e. 56 types of lavish food and dishes. I was mesmerized with the numerous food shops and was spoilt for choice as to what I should try out first. I tried the famous kachori from Vijay’s Kachori Shop as well as patties. Mind you, these patties, not to be mistaken with the conventional patties, have coconut or peanut fillings and deep fried like aloo bonda.
I also tried Johnny’s Hot Dog. This hot dog shop is famous all over the state and has a number of records to its credit for selling the highest number of hot dogs in a day.
With Sharma ji at his Madhuram Sweets shop in Chhapania Market, Indore
While walking and grabbing food at every store here and there, I suddenly saw a box of til papri at a shop called Madhuram Sweets. This til papri was from Beawer, Rajasthan, and then I saw a man behind the counter looking at me who was in a crisp white kurta and sporting a traditional tika on his forehead. He also wore a gold chain with a locket of a God and also a brooch of a picture of a Hindu deity on his pocket. He came and introduced himself as Shyam Sharma from Rajasthan and said that he recognized me. By talking to him I came to know that he was running this shop for the past 32 years. Shyam ji was very nice to me as I had only spend Rs 40 in his shop for pani puri and I think he has given me boxes of sweets for more than a thousand rupees.
I remember my friend Victor Banerjee who once said that the warmth, love and affection for each other has disappeared from the metros but is very much there in the smaller cities and stays permanently in the hearts of the villagers in India.
I think the warmth, love and affection that I got from Mr Suresh Sharma in Indore only confirms it. In fact, a journalist friend of mine with whom I was in touch with for the last couple of years but had never met him in person also came with box loads of sweets.
Shyam Sharma also introduced me to shahi shikanji - not a lemon drink – but a combination of lassi, milk, rabri, dry fruits and shrikhand, a full meal in itself. Shyam ji also told me that previously he had a shop at Sarafa Bazar as well but now his nephew, Joshi, was making dahi bara and he made me promise him that if I went to the Sarafa Bazaar at night, I must have dahi bara from that shop and he also phoned his nephew to fill him in with my details.
Sarafa Bazaar is another unique area of Indore. During the day time it is a jewellery market and from 9 am to 2 pm. Then it is transformed into a food bazaar where you get all type of Indian fast food or variety of chaats. It is said that traditionally the jewellers of Sarafa Bazaar promoted and financed these food shops so that there was enough security for their jewellery shops at night. Sarafa Bazaar also used to have very famous halwais famed for their dishes. At the Landmark Fortune Hotel, Chef Aditya had made for me a tomato and bhujia sabji and also papad and palak sabji and not to forget his alu tikia on roti which is heavenly.
As I leave Indore I am sure I shall visit the city again. Also, how can anyone who visits the city not go to Omkaleshwar and Mahakaleshwar.
The affection from the Malwa region was not over even after I returned to Kolkata. I received quite a few emails from the readers who read my last column in which I wrote that I would be visiting Malwa soon. In fact, many of them i.e. Naresh Saklecha of Ratlam said that I must visit him and stay with him when I am there again.
Sometimes I feel that a particular class of Indians, who often travel overseas, praise the food courts there, should make it a point to visit the Chhapania Market or Sarafa Bazar. They have no idea what they are missing out on closer home. 
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