Chowder Singh shares his street food secrets, a couple of hidden gems, and the one plate of food he will never eat again
Everyone has a favourite street food memory. Mine include the sinful burgers filled with a aloo tikki, noodles and a giant slab of paneer from Sarabha Nagar in Ludhiana, the makhan malai from Kanpur, the original Tunday burra kebab from Lucknow, and the inimitable anda parantha from under the Moolchand Flyover in Delhi.
Chowder Singh has devoted the last two years to chronicling the stories behind the best and most unusual of Indian street foods. He looks for local food specialists who add an extra zing to their wares, collects recipes and culinary memories from talented home cooks who have perfected their recipe over generations, and shares his adventures with a loyal readership in one of India’s most-read food blogs.
What’s amazing is that in this day and time, he has also managed to stay anonymous to his legion of fans (although he insists that “those who know him, know him”), managing a full time career with food adventures all over our country.
Earlier this week, we caught up with him for a conversation on the gastronomic delights being produced every day in hundreds of hole-in-the-wall joints across our country, and left salivating for more!
Chowder Singh, before we ask you anything else, could you tell us how you discover these gems? Do people recommend places to you on the social media, do you look out for reviews? How does your hunt begin?
Well, sometimes yes. But most often I just get to a place and ask the locals- the small shopkeepers, the rickshaw wallahs, the people on the streets. More often than not, they are the ones who know all the best places to eat nearby.
What are some of the places you’ve covered in your blog?
So far, I’ve largely searched for the best food in the cities where my work took me. I have chronicled the food available on the streets of Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune. More recently, I’ve also started a series called “Food Maestros” where I showcase the generations-old recipes of home cooks and local favourites that have not been written down anywhere else to date.
For someone who has eaten at so many different places, surely you must have some favourites.
- In Hyderabad, my favourite would have to be the Mandi- a Yemeni rice and meat preparation- from the largely Arab locality Barkas
- In Pune, I fell in love with Bipin Snacks- which does simple Maharashtrian delicacies like kande pohe- in an exceptional manner.
- And my favourite Delhi food would have to come from the Kala Burger Wala- a small joint in Subhash Nagar which cooks its aloo tikki filling until it becomes “kala”. That’s the place where it all began.
When you eat so many unusual flavour combinations, have there been some which made you say “never again”?
Not many really. But recently I happened to try tilli- the spleen of a buffalo- in Pune. And that’s -uhmm- that’s definitely an acquired taste. Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan.
And some that became instant favourites?
Not too long ago I had a fairly unique dish called the “bhujing” in Virar (skewered chicken roasted, then fried, with pohe and a special masala mix). It was a taste I’ll never forget, and I can’t wait to try it again!
CS, What’s next on your food list?
Ohh so much! I have barely touched the tip of the ice-berg. I want to visit Gujarat some day, and the whole of the North East with its distinct cuisine. I’d love to explore Kerala, Mangalore and Tamil Nadu. The list just keeps growing every day.
With all the street food and local food that you sample, do you have any special preferences in fine dining?
Well, I like Sushi. But that’s never going to make it to my blog, because there is so much to explore in street and local food!
Do you also enjoy cooking? What is your favourite dish to cook?
I cook a huge variety of things- mostly Indian food though. And one of my favourite things to cook is a Biryani
That reminds us. As Biriyani aficionados we are always looking for the perfect biryani. Do you have a favourite?
My favourite biriyani would have to be from the original Bawarchi at RTC Cross Road in Hyderabad. Nothing compares to it.
Lastly, Chowder Singh, to end on a sweet note, what is the best dessert you’ve eaten in the course of your food travels?
I recently had some delicious Jauzi Halwa at Hamid Confectioners in Hyderabad. It is an ancient recipe -that was once the favourite of the Nizam of Hyderabad- with a distinct flavour of nutmeg. It was quite unusual, and probably one of the nicest plates I’ve ever had!
Thanks Chowder Singh! With great street food, you get to “taste” the history of a place in some ways, and there really isn’t anything better. No wonder a conversation with him had us jonesing for a visit to Chandni Chowk for a day full of gastronomic adventures!
Do you have a street food secret that you’d like to share with the MBRB readers? Tell us in the comments below!
My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Food issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!All images via permission from Chowder Singh’s personal collection. Do not reuse without permission.