Food Lovers, Get Ready To Drool When You Are At Manek Chowk
Manek Chowk is what I personally name as the chameleon vicinity, in the city of Ahmedabad. The neighbourhood is tucked in the old city of Ahmedabad and sprawls over 43 acres of a square area. Manek Chowk is a hotbed for vegetable and fruit vendors during the wee hours of dawn, a trader’s hub during the course of the day, and literally transforms into a food lovers ally by the night (Khau Gali).
The ‘Chowk’ houses the temple of Baba Maneknath. The temple is visited by a number of Hindu devotees. It also houses the Ahmedabad Stock Exchange, which has been functional since 1894 and is the oldest stock exchange building after Mumbai Stock Exchange. There is the ‘Raja no Hajiro’ (what translates as Shrine of the kings) and the ‘Rani no Hajiro’ (Shrine of the Queens), who once ruled over the city of Ahmedabad. As one walks down the complicated labyrinth of lanes and by-lanes one will find this place come alive with a number of small business pronouncing a whopping turnover of $3 million annually, and continues to grow with time.
Gujarati’s have been known for their inventiveness and they leave no stones unturned to demonstrate the same with food. One of the most cherished aspects of this vicinity is food. Hawkers align by the end of the day, selling an interesting array of the most unconceivable food items. With monsoon round the corner, one of the most famous items that sell like hot cakes is the ‘Dal Wada’ (this is a deep fried dumpling made using gram flour and lentils. The batter is missed with an assortment of homemade spices, and is deep-fried in a large wok, till its golden brown and crisp) and the ‘Bhajiya’ (A combination of gram flour spices, and an assortment of vegetables ranging from potatoes, chilly, capsicum, onions, fenugreek leaves, banana, and a lot more.). In this variation what I found most different was the ‘Maggi Bhajiya’! The marriage of Maggie noodles together with gram-flour and vegetables sell like hot cakes. Also, the preparation takes a refreshing departure from the traditional ‘Bhajiyas’.
I dug into the most delicious ‘Khaman Dhokla’ (A fluffy ‘idli’ like dish made using lentils and steamed to perfection.) The ‘Khaman Dhokla’ is a hot favourite not only with Gujarati’s but with outsiders alike.
Another of my personal favourites from the locale is the freshly made ‘Jalebi’s’ (A sweet that takes a swirly form, and is friend in clarified butter, and made crisp. The sweet is garnished with saffron and dry fruits to enhance the flavour. “These sweets are served piping hot, and for our local Gujju’s this is consumed any time of the day! Most take to Jalebi as a breakfast item. However, in Gujarat, this is barely consumed as a dessert.”, adds Babu Bhai, the chef who makes these delicious swirls. ‘Jalebi has a number of health benefits, and is especially consumed by those suffering from acute migraines) coupled with ‘Gathiya’ (A deep-fried, gram flour preparation that looks like vermicelli) and ‘Fafda’ (Another deep fried gram flour preparation that looks like cut out pipes). The dish is served with an interesting accompaniment of raw papaya salad.
While I also dug into the usual ‘Pav Bhaji’ (Bread accompanies with mixed vegetables, and seasoned with special homemade spices, and garnished with a liberal serving of cheese), and ‘Dosa’ (batter that is spread over a pan and swathed in butted and cooked till it is paper thin), I totally enjoyed trying the fusion variations that included the Chinese and the Mexican style. Hawkers there went a notch up, and incorporated pasta in the ‘Dosa’, giving it an Italian twist.
I had the most unique ‘pizza pani-poori’ ever! The dish comprises of hollowed balls made out of flour and stuffed with pizza filling and topped off with cheese. The crispy balls simply melt into your mouth and taste delectable. “You can find over 35 varieties of chaat at my stall.”, adds a very smiling Bhika Kaka, the owner of a chat stall at Manek Chowk.
No meal is complete without a round of sweets. I was simply smitten by the charms of the chocolate, pineapple sandwich. The bread slices were laden with molten chocolate, and Nutella and had a large slice of pineapple placed between the slices. The sandwich is then toasted to perfection. It may come across as supremely odd when you read about it, but the dish does magic the moment it enters your mouth!
I finished the meal with a ‘Rasmalai’, which is a reduced milk preparation topped off with heavy cream, and saffron and dry fruits. The ‘Rasmalai’ was considered a luxury and was consumed by Indian royalty.
Manek Chowk is alive and bustling till the wee hours of dawn. It is one of the busiest areas in the country that works for more than 20 hours a day. “Conservationists are concerned about the heritage homes in and around the area. The neon lights that are lit by evening prove detrimental to the heritage structures surrounding the area. Numerous plans for refurbishing Manek Chowk have been on the agenda, but nothing has quite panned out, as one cannot go without the charms of the old city.”, states F. Desai, my guide around Manek Chowk.