Saturday, January 28, 2012

Chandhore and Mangaon: An amazing Medieval site and the best Mango Mastani in the Konkan

Woke up at 5.45am yesterday to go for a site visit to the amazing Medieval site located at Chandhore Chambharpada, taluka Mangaon, district Raigadh. After a lovely ride past Pen we arrived at Vadkhal naka stopped for chai and some mediocre vadas and a quick washroom break. Refueled we raced for Mangaon - a small town on the Mumbai-Goa Highway (NH17) - 130km away from Mumbai. 

To those who don't know - Mangaon is just a minor pit stop on the way to Goa ... to those who know a bit more, its a great place to buy fresh veggies, black crabs, raw cashew seeds (in season) and various forest products that the Katkari tribals bring in from the surrounding forests. It is also the jumping off point from the highway to the coastal villages/medieval ports  of Mhasla and Diveagar. Halfway to Mhasla (via Morba) is the small quiet hamlet of Chandhore. Chandhore is a bit of a bizarre hamlet. They have zero crime, have never had any communal problems, celebrate all the various Hindu and Buddhist festivals together and since 1934 have done these without any caste based distinctions! The Grampanchayat has also bagged ever single incentive/award the state has to offer!! All the houses - repeat all - have attached toilets and open air defecation (something extremely common in villages) is unheard off here. To add to this is the fact that Summers in Chandhore are cool and in years past people recovering from TB were sent here for R&R as the weather is usually dry and cool throughout the year. There's tonnes of greenery and a number of old manmade lakes/tanks from the medieval period. The coast is just spitting distance away and the (now famous) seaside town of Diveagar is a hop skip and jump from Chandhore. This little village has the potential of turning into a little Hill Station enroute to Diveagar!

(click on above picture for larger picture with higher resolution)

Sometime last year, Ms Karnik's mum-in laws sister Kunda Maushi reminded her and Mr Karnik about the antiquity of the village. Ms Karnik (Director, Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, Univ of Mumbai) immediately decided that we should go have a look see and we made a quick recce along with Dr Abhijit Dandekar and were pleasantly surprised to find a group of medieval Hindu temples (plinths), a large number of Hero/Sati stones, various sculptural fragments and a large tank cut into the native laterite rock with a narrow staircase leading into it. To our absolute surprise one wall had two rectangular niches one of which held insitu a weathered basalt image of Uma-Maheshwara.

Hero and Sati stones lying scattered at the site with a battered Nandi in the background.

One of the plinths.

The niche with the image.

Uma-Maheshwara from Chandhore.

We were there yesterday to meet the representatives of the gramsabha and to acquaint them with the treasures at their doorstep. We also explained to them that this heritage needed to be understood, accepted, explained to the children and that this was something the village could not only be proud of but could show off to all the world. We got a very enthusiastic response from the gathered village elders and they welcomed our efforts to work here and help promote this unknown but important part of the heritage of India, Maharashtra, the Konkan and Chandhore.

We did a quick recce of the sites and were happy to have Dr Suraj Pandit, renowned Art Historian and Archaeologist, with us. He gave us a series of new insights into the  materials that were scattered all over the landscape. 

Dr Suraj Pandit in action at Chandhore taking a picture of a Sheshashayi Vishnu plaque which may have been from the second niche in the step-well.

Modern Temple at Chandhore

Intricate memorial pillar ... possibly from the 13th c AD

On the way out (yesterday) we stopped over to say goodbye to Kunda Maushi who promptly made us sit down to a quick snack of Rice bhakri with Dried prawns in masala and a lovely dish of slowly cooked matki (Sprouted Moong).

Our mission accomplished we decided to head back to Mumbai when I told the gang we needed to stop at Mangaon and go to Vasav to have the most amazing Mango Mastani in all the Konkan. Mr Karnik was most sceptical and since Ms Karnik is lactose intolerant they decided to give it a miss and meet an old friend whilst me, Suraj and Mr Samuel Nazareth (of AAMRAE) along with our driver Kadam decided to head off to Vasav on the Mumbai-Goa Highway at Mangaon. 

We first found Vasav 4 years ago whilst driving down to Goa and Rhea ran across and got me a thick slice of delicious Mango Icecream made sans hydogenated vegetable oil! Ever since that day whenever we drive to and from Goa we try and pick up some more of the golden goodness. The last time (this May) Rhea got me some oftheir Mango mastani and I was completely bowled over by the sweet, cold, smooth, flavouresome and absolutely delicious concoction of Mango milkshake topped with large cubes of Mango Icecream and then garnished with bits of fruit jelly. The Mango Mastani is named after Mastani, the the wife of the famous Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I.

The Mango Mastani at Vasav, Mangaon NH17

We went in and were greeted by Mr Raju Shete the owner who is a trained pharmacist and runs the chemists shop you can see behind him. This used to be a family icecream shop that was given to his youngest brother when he went off to study pharmacy, sadly the brother died very young and the shop was then handed over to the next brother who ran it for a few years before marrying and moving on to run his father in laws business. Five years ago raju decided to pick up the gauntlet, emptied out all the old machinery, brought in new tech and set the old place back on it's feet. He hasn't looked back ever since and the popularity of his product alongside the praise from Pune-ites (where Mastani has said to have been invented) has prompted him to decide upon opening a branch in Pune. The branch is all set to open end Feb early March and I wish him all success.

The menu includes such local delicacies like Fresh Tender Coconut Icecream and Caramel Icecream (which sadly never caught on in Mangaon), alongside sherbets, faloodas and icecream slices and party packs.

 Dr Pandit and Samuel Sir - Before (Above) ... During (Below and farther below :))

Kadam in action

Well sated (we had 2 rounds ;)) we got into our jeep and sped off to Mumbai via Shudha Shanti Bhavan, Vadkhal Naka and their superb Batatwadas and crunchy Kothimbir wadis .... but that's a story for another day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kepchaki Pork Momos (and reminiscences of earlier ones) followed by an amazing dinner with friends thereafter!!

I'm back after a two month sabbatical spent working my chops off both in the catering biz and at the Univ, the catering hotted up with the advent of the Parsi wedding season and then was quickly accelerated by Xmas and New Year, followed hot on their heels by Annual 'Rocks, Minerals & Fossils Exhibition' held at the University of Mumbai's Convocation Hall from the 4th - 7th of jan 2012!!

Things finally slowed down a bit (a wee bit) this week and I caught up with a lot of my online reading ... Lo behold!! my old buddy Kalyan Karmakar alias The Knife had written about the surprise discovery of a Pork Momo stall in Bandra

My tryst with momos goes back to my courting days when I went down to meet my In-laws to be in Calcutta and was introduced to these old friends (whom I had first encountered only in Delhi - Dilli Haat) at what Rhea told me was the original Momo Shop in Calcutta - Tibetan Delite. This shop located in a small very narrow lane of 63 Chowringhee Rd in Calcutta was truly the kind of dim, smoky, ill lit, ill ventilated place that one remembered from a hundred bad 'B grade' Hollywood films, bossed over by a fat greasy somewhat shabbily dressed Tibetan lady ... it was so cliched that it was perfect.

Many a momo later - both steamed and fried, I reckoned myself to be a connoisseur of this delicacy. 

Now, a momo is essentially a crescent shaped steamed dumpling from Tibet, Sikkim, Nepal and the Northeastern states of India. By default all original and traditional momos are Pork Momos ... it is only in the Ganga Valley and south of it that the weird and bizarre Chicken and Veg momos have materialised like some wannabe cousins. My tryst with momos culminated in Pune at the Deccan College Boys Hostel when my good friend from Nagaland - Imtirenba Changkija decided to feed me what he called the 'real stuff'. He set up an assembly line of fellow Nagas (Chumbeno, David and Akham), chopped Pork belly, mixed in salt, onions and ginger, laid out the dough, made the little parcels and steamed them to perfection. These non-commercial babies are to date the most awesome momos I have ever eaten. The belly made for a parcel filled with soupy dumplings filled with hot aromatic melted fat that exploded on contact with the mouth filling one with a sublime taste that can only be described as perfection.This though was 11 years ago!

Thus finding out that Pork Momos were available in Mumbai that too at Carter Rd, Bandra was something that left me slavering like Pavlov's dog!

When Rhea told me we were having dinner with friends at Bandra and that I would have a couple of hours to kill between Univ and dinner ... I headed for the end of Carter Rd like a bullet.

The Shop is called Kepchaki Momos and is run by two Nepali boys Santhosh and Mithun, it's actually a small stall outside a tattoo parlour on the last lane that leads up from Carter Rd to Pali Hill. They make pork, chicken, prawn, veg and paneer/cheese momos. I had portion of the pork momos and was very pleasantly surprised. They were actually quite nice though a tad lean on both filling and fat. They were served with a nice tangy spicy chilly sauce made sans any colour. I then ventured to try the chicken and veg options, the prawn and cheese were over, the chicken was very so so, bland and boring, the vegggie ones were actually quite sad and tasted a tad weird. But the pork momos were what I had come for and they were superb. I wolfed down another three to wash out the taste of veggie momos (serves me right!!) and packed two portions (6 in a portion for Rs 80/-) to take for my hostess who had declared that I dare not come without them.

Santhosh hard at work at the Kepchaki Momos Stall

Santhosh delivering my first plate of Mumbai Pork Momos!!

The Pork Momos ... ate two before I could muster the strength to take a picture ;)

Mithun giving me a half plate of chk momos and a half plate of veggie momos.

The crescents at the top are the Chicken Momos and make the bulk of sales, the flat fat cushions at the bottom of the plate are the veggie guys.

After quenching a desire that had remained unsatiated for many a year I made my way into the tiny little lanes of Bandora village and met up with old friends Pavan, Megha, and Arina ... and a litlle later were joined by Rhea and Roshni for a lovely dinner put together by Megha. The excuse for the dinner was that megha was designing some new desserts for me from which I had to choose one for the Dalal Enterprises Valentine's Day Menu (more on that in another post). She'd put together some awesome hors d'ouevres a lovely Chicken Almond and Broccoli Salad followed by some delicious pasta (of which I have no pictures!!!) and then  capped off the meal with three of her signature bottled desserts. One of these was her famous Shahi Tukda which is to die for; the second was a Pannacotta  with Strwberry topping and the third was the evenings Piece de resistance and won the right to be the DE Valentine's Day Spl dessert ... more on that later (ie once we figure out what to call it ;)).

The little Toasts with Ricotta, Bell peppers, Mushrooms, and Home made organic Pesto accompanied by Cheesey Lavash and Organic Honey Mustard and more of the Pesto

The Salad with pavan making a quick move at getting a picture before it was demolished by the starving barbarians.

All in all one of the nicest days of this year. Thank you all!