Before our trains were transformed into sleek, super-fast Vande Bharats and Durontos, there were the nostalgic joys of those leisurely rail journeys through the India of our childhood. Melancholy memories of riding the rails late into the night from the comfort of your upper bunk, lulled by the musical clicking of the metal wheels on the rails.
Given that this is India, these trips were of course closely linked to food. There were all these tiffins within easy reach, overflowing with parathas, theplas, pure carrots, tamarind rice, biryanis, idlis, laddus, fucked etc etc, made at home, which accompanied a family on a train journey, as if they were going into exile.
Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
Then, each station or train ride was associated with distinctive culinary or dining experiences.
Back when trains still had fancy dining cars, I remember breakfasts of chai, omelettes and smoked toast, as you looked out, through huge open windows, in awe, the overwhelmingly beautiful jungle or mountain landscape. And the divided steel trays, filled with food, that my grandparents ordered for dinner on their bunks. Or the questionable-looking tomato soup that floated around the aisles and made you realize it should be India’s national dish, so popular was it with travelers.
Photography: courtesy: Jorge Royan/Wikimedia Commons
Several stations once had elegant dining rooms or “refreshments”: Madras Central, Bombay Victoria Terminus, Howrah, Old Delhi, Lucknow, Mughal Sarai and many others. The grand Nagpur railway station, for example, had an airy, old-style, high-ceilinged dining room on the first floor, where waiters in light blue livery dashed efficiently between marble tables serving a variety of meals, including included, surprisingly, wonderful idlis.
Each station – India has more than 7,000 – was linked to a unique type of wonderful-tasting food. So you also browsed a gastronomic map, where the delicacies changed every few kilometers.
During this great Indian culinary journey, one eagerly awaited the arrival of each station and the selection of delicious dishes it could promise to offer.
Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
When you drank Guntakal, you must have eaten his signature pongal. Vijaywada was known for the sweetest idlis, crispy country togethers and lemon rice served on a banana leaf.
Photography: Courtesy of Raj.palgun13/Wikimedia Commons
Barwaha had a name because of its famous chivda.
Chakradharpur was roughly long, light green, coiled cucumberis spiced with chili and lemon.
Sweet smell halwa was available in Tirunelveli.
Igatpuri, before going down the ghats, to tickle Vada Pav’s tongue.
Sandila in Hardoi was legendary, here and elsewhere, for its sweet and powdery crushed products Boondi Laddoos.
Dal ki pakodi in Sawaimadhopur.
Beautiful Chhole Bhatura of Jalandhar City Junction.
The plumpest guavas in season are found in Allahabad.
Freshly thrown jhaalmuri at all railway halts in Jharkhand.
Delicious mutton biryani and Dindigul.
Chicken cutlets in Howrah.
Long slices of fresh papaya, served on bright green leaves in Jharsuguda.
Maddur maturity in Maddur.
Alu Tikkis in Tundla.
Dana Methi Ki Sabzi and Puri in Ringus.
Jamrukh in Dahanu.
Litti Chokha sold at various railway stops in Bihari.
Rasgullas at Luni Junction.
The best oranges were in Nagpur.
Bananas from Bhusaval.
Lonavala for its chikki.
Surah for to eat food And change.
Ripe banana fritters or Pazham Pori at Shoranur railway station.
Bareilly Junction was machoor for his only dal pakodas.
Roasted, unshelled peanuts, ubiquitous, steamed railroad cutlets everyone Chai was an additional standard fare at many resorts across India.
For me, Allahabad station meant diving into puris and Raseela Alu. The puri cart was always parked right next to the train, on the platform, and as the Howrah Mail pulled into the station, one could see fragrant puris from a distance, like little hot air balloons literally levitating out of the train. Kadhais of hot oil to eat with a spicy dish aluminum curry.
Recreating this earthy but very simple Puri and Raseela Alu Railway at home, it’s not difficult at all. And it tastes much better than what you might eat at your nearby puri restaurant or order packed to your home, because reaching piping hot puris at the dining table, to be enjoyed with alu curry, is a special experience.
Photography: Rio Rathore
Puri and Raseela Alu Curry Railway
For the aluminum raseela
- 4 very large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- 1 teaspoon Jeera or cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon hinge or asafetida
- 1 teaspoon Haldi or turmeric powder
- Hyphen lal mirchi or spicy red powder
- 4-5 dark green chili peppers, finely chopped
- A little bit of sugar
- 2 tablespoons coriander powder
- Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon
- 2 cups of water
- Handful of chopped greens coriander or coriander or coriander
For the puris
- 2 cups altar or wheat flour + small extra for sprinkling while rolling
- 2 handles suji or semolina
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- Dash Oil
- Oil for frying
For the aluminum raseela
- Heat the oil in a Kadhai or a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add the Jeera and the hinge.
Fry for a minute.
Add the Haldi and then the aluminum.
Fry for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often.
Add water, green chilies, salt, sugar, coriander powder and bring the water to a boil.
Let the curry simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the aluminum is cooked.
- Remove from heat and garnish with greens coriander.
For the puris
- In a large bowl, or ready Or aata saane-wallah thalimake a slightly firm dough with the altar, sujioil, salt and not too much water.
Cover and let sit for 15 minutes.
- The traditional way of preparing puris is to roll them each puri to spread individually but to make many puris quickly and serve hot I prefer to spread a large quantity of dough and cut out small circles with a Katori or a cutter.
- Heat the frying oil over medium-high heat.
- Divide the dough into three portions.
Spread a portion out on a floured edge or large flat surface, not too thin – puris are always rolled a little thicker than rotis.
Use a steel Katori or bowl, cut out circles 3 inches in diameter.
Fry this first batch.
Put a circle in the oil.
Fry on one side, pouring oil over the dough circle and pressing lightly with the spatula so that it begins to swell.
Flip and fry the puri until it turns slightly red.
Drain the oil onto a plate lined with tissues or paper towels and repeat for the rest of the circles.
- Roll out the second portion of dough and repeat the cutting and frying process, then also for the last portion of dough.
- Serve it puriit’s hot with the Raseela Alupickle and yogurt – onion pickle, jackfruit pickle, eggplant or brinjal pickle, mango pickle and lemon pickle are good pairings.