The alarm went off at 4.00 a.m. exact. Well… a machine programmed to go off at 4 will operate as set, but the human body isn’t.
But this time was different. I woke up with alacrity. The reason was 2 fold – I had a flight to catch n time, tide & flights wait for no one. The 2nd reason was my destination – Bhopal, the city founded by Raja Bhoja. My reason for this alacrity had nothing to do with Raja Bhoja, but Bhopal’s history as the city of Nawabs & hence the history of gastronomy that lay hidden in every street of the old city.
The day was perfect with just 2 meetings lined up. That left me with the early morning & late evening to explore the food & the late afternoon dedicated to the architectural wonders of the city. On the flight, the hospitable air hostess offered me breakfast. Outwardly I said no. Inside me I was saying to myself…. ‘Lahoul Vila Quwwat’– it would be blasphemy to fill one’s stomach with airline food when such amazing street food awaited you. My driver Anand had an astonished look on his face when the 1st sentence I told him was ‘Jamal Bhai ke yahan chai pilane le chaliye’ (take me to Jamal Bhai’s shop to have tea). He didn’t know the place, so the trusted google maps came out. Morning time, the streets of the old city were empty so we reached Itwar chowk to Jamal bhai’s shop in no time.
The Bhopal variant is very different from the more well known black lemon tea, also called Sulaimani chai, popular in the Malabar region of Kerala. Has to be experienced – both the process & the chai. I had heard a lot about this. The tea is made in a huge samovar & a vessel with cream is kept next to it. Each cup of tea is served with a dollop of cream. Best to have it in a traditional cup n saucer & not the new found glasses in Bhopal. Pour the tea into the saucer. The cream falls with it & then sip it enjoying the sweet n salty taste watching the world go by. You will definitely experience bliss.
How could one miss Poha Jalebi in Madhya Pradesh, especially when the preparation style is Indori. Hardly 500 mtrs away from Jamal is Kalyan Singhs Swad Bhandar – the #1 poha eatery of Bhopal. Small, like most such eateries are, keep your eyes wide open, lest you miss it. The shop was just opening (Bhopal is as laid back as Lucknow with the city enjoying its resting moments to the hilt). I got to watch the piping hot jalebis & soft pohas being freshly prepared). The wait was well worth it. The jalebis crunchy n pohas soft n fluffy. The tongue wanted more, but the stomach would hear none of that. Sated I was ready to face my day.