Thursday, 2 July 2009

Travel light or Travel Right

Last weekend husband and I embarked on what has come to be an essential tradition of any Indian family that has chosen the United States of America for a home - temporary or otherwise. This tradition started when the first IIT graduate turned down a lucrative offer at Tata steel or DRDO and moved across the Atlantic to try his/her luck here. He chose the United States despite living mostly of bread and large quantities of salad. After a few years of "settling down" - he can now make a quick sambar and rasam using broccoli, radishes, zucchini or anything that caught his eye at the grocery store. He now decides to have his parents over to be introduced to his adopted country. In an effort to give his parents a good time and perhaps justify his decision to stay here, he begins a personal tour of this nation. If like me he lived in New Jersey he spent the first couple of weeks showing off NYC. Times Square was not always the LCD lit nook that it is now but I am sure there were visits to Empire State and the lady liberty. But the tradition that I refer to is the trip to see the Niagara Falls. I have seldom come across an individual of Indian origin who did not make a trip to the Niagara.

Husband and I are no new comers to long road trips. Husband likes to drive and I like to see places. Together we have enjoyed many such trips. A road trip is one of the most relaxed forms of vacation. There is no early check-in to get a good seat/upgrade, no queues, no baggage check, baggage weight limits, and security checks along with a need to pack solids and liquids separately. No decisions regarding wardrobe for next few days need be made courtesy the aforementioned no baggage limit. The seat in your car is always available and you can take along the neck pillow that according to tag does not meet many safety standards and is in fact inflammable. So the routine is get up in the morning. Grab a bunch of clothes, four pairs of footwear (just to have the option), our sunglasses, rush back into the house after screeching out of the parking lot to grab sunscreen, phone charger or something that we actually need but have forgotten and then set off. Ideal weekend activity. A low maintenance, low stress plan that makes for a perfect weekend getaway.

The traditional Niagara trip with visiting parents on the other hand is a different ball game altogether. When mil first mentioned packing food for the trip I envisioned a few idlis to tide us over and some few snack packs. A few business minded folk have also made note of the Niagara tradition and now make "notes" (couldn't resist that one :) ) in their Indian restaurants selling overpriced Indian food at stalls and restaurants near the falls. The menu though not a kept a secret was never fully disclosed and I only began to understand the scope of the preparations when a saw a huge pot of tamarind paste simmering on the gas. When I enquired about it my MIL beamed at me happily and informed me that it was for the weekend. That evening I brought up the subject of the menu with some trepidation when the in laws, husband and I were seated at the table drinking filter kaapi. The group that had been silent and only given making the occasional hmmmmmm sounds of appreciation as they sipped the fresh kaapi made from fresh decoction suddenly got noisy and argumentative about what, how much, for which meal, what will last, how to roast potatoes without oil, will coconut keep, how many idlis can one dubba of Balaji idli mix produce and so on. As a "compromise" the menu was set at

- tamarind rice

- alu capsicum sabji

- chapathis 21 no ( this number and no other was found satisfactory by my husband)

- idlis soaked in molaga podi for breakfast

At this point it was decided that we must also pool with the other family travelling with us to so husband made a call to ensure that the other family would bring along curd rice and kurma to complement our menu. After my initial disbelief I just settled down to pass a few derisive remarks under my breath. I also spent considerable time needling my husband for the next few days (Hey, he knew what he was getting into when he married me!!).

The trip started at an early 7 am. The first dubba that was opened filled the car with the smell of molaga podi and soft, oily, spicy idlis were distributed. I felt the beginning of a few pangs of guilt as I enjoyed my not run of the mill breakfast. The trip continued and we visited a vineyard on the way. After some wine tasting, we reassured my in laws that there was only trace amounts of alcohol in the wine poured in our glasses while harbouring a growing buzz. We then pulled into an overlook point to eat our lunch. What would normally be a parking lot of taco bell was now a lovely green view point where the remaining food was opened. All of us crowded around the boot and tried to exhibit some decorum and resisted the urge to elbow each other while getting at the food. But the wine that we had had on a now empty stomach combined with a near perfect dish of tamarind rice made restraint close to impossible. The chapathis, the sabji and the curd rice with grapes also deserve notable mention. After having eaten until we could not eat anymore we drove to Niagara for the darshan. As evening rolled around more goodies in the form of homemade murukku, thattai were also passed to us. As much as I enjoyed bolting down the hot fast food while travelling light it was clear that this style of travelling definitely had its advantages.

When I finished off the tamarind rice which had gotten better with each passing meal for breakfast the next day, completely ignoring the hotel breakfast buffet I was not ashamed to admit that I had been wrong. Age old wisdom had won another round. My eyes had been opened. This was the definitely the way to travel, in style - to travel right.


Alu Bun - this was a favourite among us. They were a Bangalore Iyengar Bakery speciality and when I came across this recipe I could not resist making them. The buns came out beautifully though it is a bit of work. Also the website that I found this recipe at deserves notable mention - very good recipes, lovely pictures. Great blog altogether.


Ersa said...

i love long road trips too...and whenever it's with the parents, my mo always always always makes sure she packs something...she wakes up early in the morning to prepare everything fresh before we left...and i never could wait to taste the food :-)

stringOfPearls said...

:) Lucky you!!
sometimes the older generation has it right, hai na?