Over the 7 years of being away from home, if there's one aspect of food I find almost heartbreakingly irreplaceable, it's got to be the street food. Balancing oneself amidst jostling crowds along little bylanes to make your claim at the pani puri stand or enjoying bajjis unfazed by the sand blowing right into your face and your plate by balmy Madras beaches- it's an experience that simply cannot be had anywhere else but the home country.
However, longing for those flavours over the years, I started playing with recipes of these streetside wonders at home (I know, it sounds like a total oxymoron). So when Thomas and I were figuring out a round 2 for our dinner series, we were more than excited about throwing a street food fare, with a dash of Berlin street style mixed in.
Coming up with a menu was hardly the tough part, it was cutting down on the umpteen items we were excited about that was tough! And while on one hand I was trying to recreate those forgotten rustic flavours, on the other, this dinner became a lot of fun mixing Indian hits with local eats.
As laid-back and unfussy as street food sounds, the number of components involved took much more preparation than the last time and was a lot more work once we got to it. It was thoroughly fun though, as is the nature of street food- never a dull moment playing with all those colours, forms and the insane amounts of layers and textures! Personally, I felt so happy to be able to share some of my favourites with everyone.
We opened our doors at a little cafe in Neukölln. It was a quaint little space and we were 20 odd people gathered, having a very merry time on Sunday evening. Here's what we had:
Masala Peanuts & Garlic Naan-Rolls with Mirchi ka Salan
Shots of Pani Puri
Chilly & Potato Bajji with Mint Chutney
Paneer & Chicken Tikka Flammkuchen
Kutchi Dabeli Sliders
Saffron Kulfi with caramelised mango
& Craft beers with main courses
Our good friend Emanuele Libralato helped us out with these lovely pictures he took of the evening!
Thomas opened the evening with a Desi Gimlet. Soon after, Karthik and I decided to throw a pani puri idea into the mix, impromptu- and a great decision it was! Standing behind a table covered with bowls of chutneys, pani and potato fillings, K served up pani puri street-style (well, almost) as everyone took their turn to gulp down a ball each.
Of everything though, I was most pumped about sharing the dabeli with everyone! Let me hereby finally declare my undying love for it! It is quite possibly my most favourite thing in the whole world. And what possibly makes it so very special and precious could be the fact that it is quite niche and hyper-local. I wouldn't have discovered it if not for moving up north, to Pune. The memory is so special and reminds me of my first encounter with whole different cultures, since I was brought up in the South until then. After we moved out of Pune in 2002, I never saw the dabeli again. Ten years later, I found it on a menu in a restaurant serving West Indian fare in the very Indianised Bay Area and I nearly shed tears of joy. Sweet serendipity!
Over the years, I have tried to remember and recreate what little I could, mostly failing, but ultimately inching towards a close home-made version of it. I am so happy that I got to share it with everyone.
The currywurst was the other big highlight! I am not a pork-eater, so when Thomas wanted to do an Indian version of the currywurst that I had never tasted in the first place, I have to admit I was at a bit of a loss. But what came in the end with Thomas' idea- Indian style tomato curry dotted with mustard seeds and laced with ginger-garlic and masalas, was loved and much in demand for seconds! His touch of mango was pure genius and the crowning glory of the dish- I tasted it!
So, as an almost-vegetarian, I guess it's safe to say I am missing out on some of the most loved German food yet. But I have already discovered my absolute favourite in the non-meaty realm here: the flammkuchen. I have been obsessed with this simple, delicious preparation and I experimented with a paneer tikka version a little while ago, along with an spicy potato roast and a carrot-methi version. We did the tangy, punchy tikka flammkuchens and it seems they were well-enjoyed.
The dessert! I have to admit we deliberated a bit on the dessert. We enthusiastically set out experimenting with frozen stuffed fruits, but decided the summer would be a more fitting season for such hardcore icy bites. Other prototypes (as K calls them) involved mango-cashew and rose-litchi kulfi. The simple but elegant saffron kulfi still emerged the winner of them all. Topped with pistacchio and caramelised mango, it turned out right on point to complete this crazy fun fare.
I think I don't say this enough, but a lot of what we've been able to do with this dinner and the last, is hugely due to K. While Thomas and I were the ones to come up with the food club idea initially, Karthik has gotten unwittingly pulled into it and then fully offered himself up as my helper boy, sous-chef, decorator, prep assistant- whatever the need of the moment. Not to mention- he's my cheerleader pushing me forward constantly without which I'd probably be too shy to try this (you friends would know this). There is just no way I would be able to do so much without him! Thank you, K.
And last but not the least, thanks so much to everyone who came- it was wonderful and I'm looking forward to the next now! I can't wait to revisit and share more of our favourite things again!