‘Once Upon an Evening’
An evening is the best part of the day in my preference. That is a time of family get-together after a hard day, gossip and relaxation, family games and most importantly ‘Mama’s delicious snacks!’ We never skipped an evening without the essence of tea and dry cakes. Mother always made milk tea and full cream tea.
When I grew older and learned to make tea, I started experimenting on them! Lemon tea, Ice tea, Orange tea, Olive tea, Amla tea, Pepper tea, and whatnot! Different tastes on each evening made the family time more interesting and interactive. Apart from the tea, there has been always something more surprising she never failed at. My family is spicy lover. So, she cooked healthy yet tasty spicy foods for us. Suppose, there are Potato Chops and Egg Chops – but mother mixed both of them, dipped them in oil, and fried them as crispy, spicy snacks. I called those ‘Dimalu Chops!’ When we were kids and uninterested to eat vegetables, she used to make Rolls, Pakoras, Samosa, Shinghara, Mughlai Parota – but all with pure vegetables.
The Cauliflower Shinghara, Barb Pakoras, Red Amaranth Pakoras, Leaf Amaranth Pakoras, Stem Amaranth P akoras, Spinach Samosas and Brinjal-Tomato-Meat Rolls tasted like fancy fast foods. But we never knew that she was giving us vegetables secretly! Not only the fried foods, but we had Chotpoti, Cholabhaja and Ghugni as our snacks. She always had the intention of making healthy snacks, so there were Peas, Onions, Pudina Leaves, Coriander Leaves, Tomatoes, Barbs, Potatoes, Eggs, Beans and Cucumbers, Turnip, Radishes and different kinds of hot spices to entertain us. Above all of these, my sister and I were deeply fond of Hog Plum with pepper, Jhalmuri and Fuchkas.
In the cold seasons, we yearned for street foods. But those were forbidden for us. So, my mother used to make homemade street foods, especially for us. The Hog Plums were served with dry peppers or someday it was served with pepper sauce blended with salt and sugar. The Jhalmuri had different kinds of chillis, peas with slices of onions, cucumber, tomato, okras, and coriander leaves. The Fuchkas’ preparation was the job of my sister. She made Turmeric Sauces with sugar, jhalmuri, potato chat, masala chat to serve with Fuchkas.
Other than the spicy foods, sometimes we had sweet snacks in the evening. Mother is such a sweet-tooth person, and the cookies she makes are mouth-watering. She is the ‘Halwa Chef!’ The Coconut Halwa was made of coconut and caramel, the Chickpea Halwa and Semolina Halwa were made of almonds, cream, milk powder, chickpea or semolina, cinnamon with lots of clarified butter. There’s also Carrot Halwa – made of minced carrot.
About 9 years ago, when my father went to the Middle East, he brought a butter almond cookie for us – ‘Ghoraibi’. These little wedding treats also have just the right amount of blanched almonds. Though our evening snacks were filled with desi desserts, sometimes we had English snacks, such as Creamy Vanilla Pudding, Choco Pudding, Minced Apple Pie and Fruit Custard. The cool and sweet desserts were perfect items to create a sensation in hot monsoon. When I began cooking and baking snacks, I grew a tendency to try cooking various dishes from various cultures. One of those was the Japanese snacks – ‘Taiyaki’. These warm, filled cakes, shaped like a fish and made with pancake-like dough, are stuffed with a sweetened red bean paste, custard, or even chocolate. My sister and I shaped the Taiyakis in different patterns. It is almost similar to a Bangladeshi snack, named – ‘Khaja’. Khaja is enriched with flour, caramel, and molasses.
Someday, we baked Potato Chips at our home. We sliced potatoes, mixed them with spices, dipped and fried them in oil. This is a crispy snack for the evening hour. These chips are almost like plantain chips from South Africa, made from unripe plantains fried in hot oil, can be eaten hot or cold, and are available everywhere in Africa. There’s a famous snack in Argentina, called ‘Empanadas’. The standard form of making it is a wheat dough pastry stuffed with beef. Vegetarians enjoy Empanadas stuffed with onions, spinach, cheese, or boiled eggs, and those who like sweet treats will go mad for the dessert varieties, filled with fruits. The shape of Empanadas looks almost like a ‘Nakshi Pitha’. We named it many things but little did we know that we were having an Argentine snack at our evening meal!
My siblings were strict about maintaining diets. The habit was not constant but someday they were lifted with so much spirit to abide by the diet rules! So, our mother made a plan to prepare a salad snack for them. There were various fruit and vegetable salads she had made but on a special note, I can recall the ‘Rojak’, a delightful, crunchy, sweet-spicy Malaysian fruit salad. Sometimes it includes vegetables, tofu, cuttlefish, or shrimp. When I was a kid, I was very much fond of Waffles and having Chocolate Cookies with hot chocolate drinks. It was one of my favorite evening snacks. Mostly, we bought Waffles and Cookies. There were ‘Stroopwafels’ from the Netherlands, filled with caramel-like syrup in the middle. Years later, my brother brought Norwegian Waffles while living in Norway. Norwegian Waffles were served with ice cream or maple syrup or honey. Sweet like heaven! We also had the French snack ‘Pain Au Chocolat’, which is a buttery, light, flaky croissant, filled with chocolate. My sister was good at making spicy snacks of different cultures. I still remember, once on Eid-Ul-Adha she made an Australian Meat Pie, filled with ground beef and onion. Occasionally, sometimes she made a Brazillian snack – ‘Coxinha’. A small, deep-fried chicken, cheese croquette covered in crunchy, breaded dough, almost like Chicken Drumsticks, and is best served with hot sauce.
In the clutch of stereotypical life, almost all of us have lost the spur of life. When I look back to the good days, I find these family hangouts truly mesmerizing and heartwarming. It’s true, good foods bring happy moods. What’d you think?