Monday, February 23, 2015

malaiyyo trail in Banaras | where to get the best malaiyyo in Banaras

We were in Banaras for a week to meet friends, family and have a good time generally. But the most encouraging part of this visit was the thought of malaiyyo that we were hoping to taste after so many years. About 15-16 years to be precise as we could not visit Banaras in winter season for these many years somehow. This visit in the last leg of winter looked promising for reasons than we had planned. Maliyyo was the topmost reason believe me.

Malaiyyo is a 'saffron flavoured milk cloud' that is made by churning whole milk early in the morning during winter months by the shopkeepers in the old part of the city who are actually gwalas (keepers of cows) and produce and sell milk products including yogurt, khoya, butter and ghee depending on seasons. When saffron flavoured milk is churned slowly (manually) it results in the fats separating into a froth that is collected in a large kadhai (a utensil they use for many purposes through the year). Later this frothy cream is sprinkled with finely sliced nuts and saffron to garnish. 

My research guide Dr. Goyle had introduced me to malaiyyo 2 decades ago as she used to live in Neelkanth area (in pakka mahal) and there were many malaiyyo vendors around her home. In those days small khomcha walas used to ply in the maze of those narrow lanes and would stop and ladle out a kulhad of malaiyyo for you on demand. You could get hold of them only in foggy winter months as the fog and low temperature would allow the malaiyyo to stay frothy the whole day but as the winter months would lead to spring you would find malaiyyo only in the small shops around Neelkanth and Chaukhamba lanes, the famous maze of gullies in Banaras that stay cooler than the city outside the gullies. These shops are literally holes in the wall with the edge of a huge Iron kadhai jutting out of it to indicate there is a malaiyyo shop. Not much crowded, only a couple of patrons getting the stuff packed for a nearby home or having it right there. This shop below is the one opposite to Gopal ji Mandir in Chaukhamba gully.

There is a world of difference between the city that breaths in the gullies of Banaras and the part of the city that chokes outside the gullies. Within a quarter of a century since I have been watching this city I see Banaras choking and suffocating on many levels. But pleasantly, I found the gullies almost untouched by the recent invaders. Apart from the gullies you don't see many banarasi people around, hoards of people have come and settled in the city from Eastern parts of the country and you don't get to hear that famous banarasi accent that often in the city. Not that I am complaining, but I feel Banaras is choking under the huge population it is supporting right now. Ranting over.

Over to malaiyyo now, after all these years we were suspicious of whether we will get to taste it this time or not, as mid February temperature was already soaring to worry us. But we asked around and got to know that it will be available till Holi. One day early in the morning we started from home, it takes almost 40 minutes from Lanka to Chaukhamba and we reached there around 8.30 AM, changing auto and manual rickshaws twice. We do feel like tourists in the city now that we find ourselves unable to drive in the mad traffic, not even a two wheeler. But luckily the rickshaws are very efficient.

Reach Godoliya from any part of the city, hire a rickshaw for Chaukhamba, tell the rickshaw owner to drop you at the gopalji mandir wali gully and he will drop you just there. Then start walking inside the gully you would find the first Malaiyyo wala in front of the Bhartendu Bhavan. You would want to ask for Gopal ji mandir several times to be sure of the directions as the gully meanders a bit, do not turn into any gully left or right.

Ravi, the owner of this 'corner shop' has already offered the 'bhog' to Krishna as you can see in this picture and is serving the first kulhad of Malaiyyo to us.

This stuff was good but not the best. Still way better than the Daulat ki chaat we get in purani dilli. We asked for the malaiyyo wala doodh and he walked inside the gully on the right to bring a bucket full of malaiyyo wala doodh within a couple of minutes. This proves the malaiyyo is made using whole milk and not using transfat based icing/whipped cream. But to be honest, this malaiyyo had a little 'dalda' or trans fat added as I could feel the fat sticking to my upper palate. A trans fat containing malaiyyo will look a bit more fluffy and stiff the whole day while the real 100% milk fat malaiyyo would be like soft peaks falling and collapsing easily. 

This malaiyyo was good compared to the malaiyyo available in Bansphatak road where it is made fully of transfats and stays well the whole day even in summers. A trap for tourists waiting. I have never tasted this one though. Will share the pictures of the Bansphatak shop too.

Ravi's shop in front of Bhartendu Bhavan is decent malaiyyo although you may find the gully quite unclean around the shop, which is just a wooden chowki (platform) where his wares are displayed.

The malaiyyo is fairly stiff and frothy.

The next Malaiyyo wala sits just about 10 steps ahead of this guy and had not started his business yet. You see the bhog offered to Krishna here too and the earthen kulhads waiting for customers.

The city in the gullies doesn't start business too early in the day, people are busy doing the ganga snan and puja early morning and business starts after 7-8 AM for food stuff and from 10-11 AM for others. We were the first customers of Malaiyyo wherever we went to sample the taste.

Walk a bit more to cross a small vegetable market on both sides of the gully and you reach the Gopalji Mandir on your left. On the right side is this Malaiyyo shop by Markandey Sardar. See the huge kadhai and the serving utensils propped up in this hole in the wall.

This malaiyyo is not as stiff (means 100% pure milk fat) and the amount of nuts is generous. This particular shop was patronised by the royal families of Banaras in the past ans is still known for great quality and purity. And surprisingly the malaiyyo was a bit cheaper than the one at Bhartendu Bhavan. The interiors of the gully is not bitten by the touristy charm yet.

See the malaiyyo froth that is collapsing in this half eaten kulhad, indicating pure milk fat. This one doesn't stick to the upper palate when you eat. If you have a sensitive palate that is.

 The cost of malaiyyo wala doodh is included in the malaiyyo cost here.

And he fills up your cup patiently. No hurry to finish. You can even have another kulhad without worrying about cholesterol and calories. Milk fat never causes cholesterol deposits FYI. And Malaiyyo is a far far better choice than ice creams and gelatos. You have to taste it to believe it.

This confection might be a bit too sweet by your standards, was so for me but that doesn't mask the flavours of this wonderful thing on earth. See the content faces and the gully that leads to more infinite maze of gullies.

I wish I could get this dessert more frequently although I have no trace of a sweet tooth in me. This is one of those desserts that result from the best possible combination of flavours and texture, and a dedication to create the best, the skill evolved through generations..

Malaiyyo is known as Makkhan malai in Lucknow and Nimish in Kanpur and Lakhimpur etc. Every region has their own minor variations in flavours but it is essentially a winter specialty and if you see it being served or sold in warmer seasons you be assured it is made of trans fats. The Delhi version is called Daulat ki chaat which is white in colour and quite pale in comparison to the taste of  Banarasi malaiyyo.

This shop at Bansphatak sells malaiyyo all through the year, neatly scooped in kulhads for easy dispense to tourists. No locals eat malaiyyo here ever.

Real malaiyyo once scooped out in kulhads will collapse really soon but here it stays for the whole day. Beware. This is fake malaiyyo.

Real pure malaiyyo looks like this. Found definitely at Markandey Sardar, opposite Gopal ji mandir in Chaukhamba gully.

I hope you will definitely throng to Chaukhmba the next time you are in Banaras. Don't forget to carry an empty bottle to get some malaiyyo wala doodh for home. Malaiyyo can be carried within the gullies only unfortunately, it wouldn't survive even 15 minutes in the heat and dust of the city outside the gullies.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

paya shorba recipe, the slow cooked goat trotters with Indian spices

Paya shorba is nothing but a stew cooked with lamb trotters or goat trotters. This is the best bone broth that is simmered with some spices to make a gravy or shorba that tastes rich and is very healthy too. It is well known that bone broth is a healing supplement to diet and new mothers and recovering patients are advised to have it every week or so. This paya shorba is an Indian version of the same bone broth and is cooked differently in different parts of the country. In the early days of my cooking I had tried this stewed trotters but somehow the smell discouraged me and I could not eat the stuff. I liked it if someone else cooked or when we ate at purani dilli markets.

Recently we saw paya shorba being sold very cheap near Charminar area of Hyderabad. People would buy a huge pack of paya shorba and a few yeasted flat breads and take it home. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought the same along with some biryani and brought back to our guest house. These single portions were so huge we could not finish even the half of those. But the taste was so good we still remember the aroma and the deep rich comforting experience. We were talking about how one can buy this stuff and make a green curry make a cheap affordable yet nourishing meal. I am talking about Shadab Biryani shop close to Charminar in Hyderabad.

I wanted to recreate the same taste but did not want to grind a lot of spices so I searched for a simpler recipe and found one on a Pakistani blog. I usually remember even the new blogs but somehow later all these blogs started looking similar when I searched for the same recipe at the time of cooking. Thankfully the basics were already in my head and the shorba that came out was exactly the way I had wanted it to be.

The most important step in making the paya shorba is cooking it really for long hours or under pressure so the gelatin extracts well from the bones and comes into the broth. Cleaning the paya (the trotters) is another tricky business if they come with the hairy skin attached. It needs to be burned carefully and rinsed well but I prefer getting cleaned trotters from the butcher. Another hassle is that the place where I order my meat and chicken from, doesn't stock trotters so we just get them whenever we have time to go and pick up trotters from a traditional butcher and then to cook them for hours. A rare treat but we are trying to do it as frequently as possible.

(3-4 servings when served with side dishes)

to be boiled (pressure cooked) together 
goat trotters 4
onion quartered 1 (about 80 gm)
garlic cloves 12
ginger sliced 1/2 inch piece
whole black cardamom 2
cinnamon 1 inch piece
cloves 3-4
tejpatta 2-3
water 1.5 Liters

To be made into a bhuna masala
tomatoes 2 (about 200 gm) or thick yogurt 1 cup
onion sliced 1 (about 80 gm)
coriander seeds 1 tbsp
cumin seeds 2 tsp
black pepper corns 1 tsp
green cardamom 2
dry red chillies 3-4
turmeric powder 1 tsp
ginger 1/2 inch knob
nutmeg to be grated over the masala paste later 1 pinch
 2 tbsp mustard oil
salt to taste

for garnish
ginger minced finely 1 tbsp
green chillies minced 1 tbsp
chopped coriander greens 3-4 tbsp


Rinse the trotters well and pressure cook for about 2 hrs along with the ingredients listed. Two hours pressure cooking seems too much but helps in extracting the gelatin from the bones really well, the bones become soft and crumbly. If cooking in a pan you need to replenish water repeatedly and cook for about 5-6 hours. Let the pressure cooker cool down before proceeding.

Fish out the trotters and keep aside. Strain the broth and discard the whole spices.

To prepare the bhuna masala, heat the oil in a deep pan or kadhai, tip in the sliced onions and fry them on medium flame till browned well. Drain and keep aside.

Now make a paste of coriander seeds, cumin and black peppercorns, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and dry red chillies together with 2 tbsp water. Empty the wet masala paste into the remaining oil and fry on medium flame till aromatic and glazed.

In the same blender add chopped tomatoes or yogurt if using and make a paste. This will be added into the glazed bhuna masala. Cook and little more till everything becomes aromatic again. Tomatoes will result in a vibrant colour while yogurt gravy will be lighter in colour.

Now blend the fried onions in the same blender and add to the bhuna masala, mix well and now pour the trotters and the broth, grate nutmeg over it and simmer for about half an hour. Add water if required. This is one dish that doesn't cook in a hurry. Some fat will float up when it is cooked.

Serve hot with a garnish of minced green chillies, ginger and chopped dhaniya patta.

Khameeri roti is the best accompaniment the paya shorba can get. The test of a good paya shorba is in the consistency of the gravy when it cools down. It becomes a jelly once at room temperature and in winters it starts jelling even on your plate and the fingers start feeling sticky due to the gelatin rich gravy.

We normally eat this over 2-3 days once cooked on the weekend. In winters this is the one of the best comforting foods to have. Very nourishing, great for convalescence and for lactating mothers. Like liver curries I have been experimenting with paya shorba a lot these days. With advancing age we understand the utility of some of these foods better and start overcoming the inhibitions we had regarding some of the boring foods or some of these time consuming foods too.

Paya shorba is well worth the time it takes. Do not forget some good yeasted flat bread with it, or a home baked khameeri roti if you can.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

everyday subzi : baingan sowa-methi ki subzi

Baingan or brinjal is one of the favourite vegetables I can eat in any form. Not only because I love baingan myself but also because baingan responds so well to different treatments given to it. Grill it to make eggplant salads or crustless aubergine pizza, fry it to make beguni or sarson wala baingan fry, mash it to make bharta or raita, puree it to make baba ganoush or just curry it with just anything you like. I love the Japanese style grilled aubergine as well. Alu baingan palak is one traditional subzi on eastern UP that is cooked in winters in almost every home but this baingan subzi with sowa and methi is not that common in eastern UP. It is more of a western UP combination. Those who like it get this subzi made several times during the season and sowa methi combination is used to bring the best from the winter brinjals and green peas. And this is one of the lightest curries one can cook.

I cook this curry quite often for dinner and have it like my soup dinners but some time in last month I cooked this one in day time and clicked a few pictures. And when I posted this urad daal sowa ke pakode, it reminded Nupur about the sowa baingan ki subzi and she enquired about it in the comments. Sowa baingana and sowa-methi baingan is cooked similarly and people keep using different ratios of both these leafy greens in this subzi, sometimes even skipping one of these.

It was a pleasant coincidence that I had already clicked pictures of this recipe and I promptly promised her about it. Although I got quite late in sharing it, but better late than never.So here is the baingan sowa-methi ki subzi for you Nupur.

(2-3 servings)

one large round brinjal (or any fleshy variety) about 300 gm
cleaned washed and chopped methi (fenugreek) greens 200 gm
cleaned washed and chopped sowa bhaji (dill greens) 150-200 gm
finely minced green chillies, ginger and garlic 2 tsp each
chopped tomatoes 100 gm or one large tomato (optional)
green peas 100 gm (optional)
mustard oil 1 tbsp
fenugreek seeds 1/4 tsp
mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
fennel seeds 1/4 tsp
hing (asafoetida) a pinch


Heat the oil in a pan or pressure cooker pan. I often use pressure cooker for such mushy subzis (especially for brinjal) because it cooks faster and doesn't dehydrate the subzi too much.

Tip in the hing, fennel, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds in the oil and wait till the splutter and get aromatic. Add the minced ginger, garlic and green chillies next and cook till sizzling but not browned.

Add the peas, brinjal and the chopped greens. Mix well to coat everything. Add salt and chopped tomatoes if using and top up with 3-4 tbsp of water. Cover with the lid and pressure cook till the whistle blows. Take off from the flame and let the pressure cooker cool down on its own. Mix well and serve hot.

If cooking in a pan, just let the subzi cook on low flame covered, stirring once a while for about 20 minutes. It will be mushy and muddled up after cooking and that is how it is supposed to look.

The duo of methi and sowa taste really good in this curry. Most people add a few potato cubes to it too and some of them even skip adding the brinjal and make it just with potatoes. But the crux of the matter is that this subzi doesn't have any other spices than the tempering essentials. The aroma of this curry is dominant with a mix of methi-sowa, brinjal being the base to absorb all the goodness. Some people like this curry all mushed up in a texture similar to bharta. Make it the way you like it, most likely you must be familiar with this subzi if you have lived in UP somewhere.

We enjoyed this baingan sowa methi with some whole wheat mini kulchas and buttermilk on a weekend afternoon, watching TV and talked of our simple meals of childhood.

When we live away from home and miss the seasonal foods, these are some of the flavours that are missed the most. The freshness of winter produce is best captured in this kind of subzis back home. I have heard my friends saying the baingan and saag of Banaras tastes so different from what we get elsewhere. That is called the taste of home and this subzi represents that for me.

I am sure it brings back memories from home if you have come here just to read about baingan sowa-methi ki subzi. Go shop for some baingan and sowa methi and cook this subzi. Soulful food doesn't cost a bomb.