Dancing Dolls, Jalebis and Masala Papad

It's very difficult to focus on writing when life pulls you in various different directions. It is worse when you sit transfixed, watching Mother Nature unleash her fury as it happens. The devastation and trauma becomes your very own through Twitter, Facebook, newspapers and even Al-Jazeera.

Like many of you, I sat glued to my computer late into the night on Thursday, switched to portable devices as it became evident that day-break was near and I needed to get some shut-eye. My dear friend in Tokyo would be safe, I knew. Until it dawned on me that he had moved to Mito, the capital of Ibaraki prefecture, to care for his aging parents. Ibaraki and Miyagi are two prefectures that were closest to the epicenter of the devastating earthquake and the hungry tsunami. Google Maps showed that he lived not too far away from the shore but hopefully far away enough to be unaffected by the tsunami. Pictures from the web showed damaged homes, crushed cars and roads with giant gaps in them. I knew better than to call so I sent an email and waited. And waited. And hoped for the best, refreshing my Inbox more often than it is scheduled to, until finally "I am fine" came through. Never have those words seemed sweeter than they did. I was very grateful. And then I cried for all the lives that were lost and are still missing in the aftermath of this deadly tsunami.

Those who want to help can go to www.redcross.org and donate to Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. People can also text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific. (American Red Cross)

A little diversion and a little bit of cheering up would not be out of line, I think, and what better than these Giant Dancing Dolls we found at Dilli Haat! Was there anyone who didn't have a smaller version of these in their home when they were growing up in India? Ubiquitous. (Background music from Hemant Kumar's Bees Saal Baad, 1962 some nondescript Disco Unusual song that Youtube suggested after a user saregama took exception to my using less than 25s of a song they claim to own copyrights for. I used it under the fair use clause and not for commercial profit but they still wanted me to take it down even though there are hundreds of other videos with the same song and with views in the thousands. Whatever.)

Giant women, including Anita

It was the last day of master craftsmen at Dilli Haat so our visit could not be postponed. We were rushed off our feet, bundled into the best thing that has happened to the capital city of India — the Delhi Metro — and transported into the enchanted land of arts and crafts that had been passed down generation after generation.

Medha & Anita
Medha & Anita with Warli tribal art

Pietra dura
Pietra dura, the same art that is found on the Taj Mahal

Dilli Haat
Everything from clothes to accessories to mats

That we were jetlagged and still a little overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is India, went a long way in making sure I did not buy out the entire place. It would not have fit in my suitcase anyway, I had all those damp clothes to take with me, remember? I did buy a few things, of which, these marble coasters are my prized possession.

Handmade by master craftsmen

My heart overflowed with pride for the all the traditional and priceless arts and crafts that are part of my culture. It is a shame that many of these precious trades are dying out quickly due to modernization and economies of scale. If you are ever in Delhi, stop by Dilli Haat and support the craftsmen and craftswomen who are doing their best to keep a tradition going and sustain their families at the same time.

Did I mention that there is food at Dilli Haat? The tantalizing aromas and the sight of street food from various regional cuisines cooked right in front of us, was enough for me to break my resolve to stay far away from street food. I caved. I gave in. We ate jalebis. Watch.

The post-Dilli Haat party at Anita's was like going back to my 20s: munchies, drinks and loud music well into the night. And, stimulating conversation. Thoughts of those carefree days bring with them memories of masala peanuts and masala papad. Every time my friend Anuj would reach out for a few peanuts, I would hold his gaze and quietly wrestle the peanuts from his fingers back into the bowl. I made sure he was so deeply engaged in the talk that he didn't quite catch on. He would look quizzically at his empty fingers, only to go fishing in the peanut bowl, and come up empty-handed again. It took him a while to realize what was happening and after that, I was never allowed near the peanut bowl. I rue that it was never that easy to do with masala papad simply because I was the one who was engaged — in eating, for the deliciousness of these savory treats cannot be ignored, even to pull a fast one on an old friend.

Masala Papad

Masala papad
Also handmade

  • 1/2 packet mini papad, any flavor
  • half small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2-3 hot green chillies, finely chopped
  • 1/8 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1-2 tsp of lemon juice
  • salt to taste
  • red chilli powder or cayenne pepper
  • chaat masala (store-bought)

Mini papad
Mini papads

  1. Deep fry the mini papad in oil and drain on paper towels.
  2. Mix onions, tomatoes, green chillies and cilantro.
  3. Sprinkle salt, add lemon juice and mix well. Adjust to your taste.
  4. Lay the fried mini papads out on a large platter and top with some of the onion-tomato mix.
  5. Sprinkle with red chilli powder and chaat masala. Dig in right away!

Masala papad
I dare you to eat just one!

  • This is an inexact recipe, which means that you get to tailor the topping to your tastes. Use my recipe as a guide.
  • If you can't find the cuteness that is mini papads, regular papads will do. The mini papads are more convenient to eat but they are a pain to fry. 
  • If you use regular size papads, please don't eat the entire papad by yourself. You are expected to break a piece off and eat that. These treats may make you want to grab the plate for yourself but be civil and share.
  • I buy the Punjabi-style mini papads. They can be found in the following flavors: plain, jeera (cumin), black pepper and so on.
  • I usually fry half the packet as some of my friends don't care for raw onions, while other friends like to munch on the papads by themselves. As the official frying person, I also treat myself to a few as I fry.

Sacredfig, you may now break out into Aaj Monday hai, Aaj Monday hai...I did!


Anonymous said...

The incidents at Japan are so depressing. Cannot even begin to imagine the plight of the people there. Glad your friend is safe.

Miri said...

You went to Dilli Haat - yaay! - poora paisa vasool for your Dilli trip ;) - its one of my fav places in Delhi. The sights, the sounds and the smells....the Navdhanya organic cafe is a particular fav for their rajma...

Pelicano said...

Yes, we certainly are in need of a diversion. Glad you succumbed to the charms of jalebis. I had to rewind the video because I got lost watching the mysterious beverage being made in the background.

Miri said...

Must be masala doodh I think...

Mrinalini-Gadkari said...

Hi Manisha,

Your blog reminded me of my visit to Dilli Haat 10 years ago when I used to live in Delhi! So nostalgic. And the papad and jalebis, mmmm..mouthwatering!!

Nupur said...

I'm loving the pictures and glimpses into your India trip- that jalebi video is a wonderful treat on a dreary Monday morning (we have heavy snow!!!).

Soma said...

I would go insane in Dilli Haat. The marble work is soooooo pretty. Can see, where I am heading in summer; if no the haat, I have Jaipur.

Those papad appetizer is going to be on my next in the next party!

Panfusine said...

when u dare everyone to eat just one... you mean one just PLATE of those masala papads right??
thanks for raking up beautiful memories of Dilli Haat! of bumming around thru those stalls noshing on chaat & sipping Kashmiri Kahwa in the food section!

Indian Food Rocks said...

indu, it's beyond comprehension. As with every disaster, natural or man-made. Japan is probably the most disaster-ready/aware country.

Miri, there's an organic cafe? Well, guess who didn't tell me! She led me to deep-fried street food instead!

Pel, those jalebis were *so* good! That beverage was masala milk. It has milk and lots of thickened milk skin so we weren't really interested.

Mrinalini, so glad you could relive some of your memories through my videos!

Nupur, nothing quite like hot jalebis! Would you believe it if I told you we haven't seen half as much snow as the mid-west and east coast have? Luckily the mountains have so we shouldn't have water problems in summer. It's just very dry here with elevated fire warnings.

Soma, I didn't shop in Jaipur except an hour or so when our 'guide' whisked us into the 'government-approved' shopping arcade where I bought bedsheets and pillow covers. Ahem! I wanted to buy spices and jewelry but there was no time. The Gujjar activists were at the height of their demonstrations on the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur highway, and we had to leave Jaipur earlier than planned in order to avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours. I hope you have better luck!

Niv, I usually make several platters ;-) I won't get upset about not getting Kashmiri Kahva because I got a taste of the authentic stuff at Anita's on our return from the Golden Triangle. I didn't let her put as much sugar as Kashmiris do - 1 heaped tsp for 2 cups of water - and so she complained that it wasn't the real thing. We really liked it though!

Unknown said...

Glad that your friend is fine and hoping and praying for everything else over there. Those marble squares look awesome and those tiny masala papads are just awesome :)

Anonymous said...

Aaj toh Tuesday hai...but, I did see the post last night and do the dance :)

In addition to the crafts on display, isn't there something so phenomenal about the haat/bazaar experience that needs to be preserved too? Even the best designed malls are missing that level of sensory engagement, not to mention missing the charm of being engaged by the 'shopkeeper' while you look at stuff. Case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPF3Vnkp-eY starting around 14:16 upto around 16:00. This guy is a food vendor, but there are countless people in saree, bartan and what-have-you shops all over the country who have their own signature customer service style - "Was everything to your satisfaction?" and "thank you for your business" don't come close!

I love the soundtrack on the dancing dolls video. There is some mysterious congruity between the songs of that era ('Najar laagi raja tore bangle pe' from Kala Pani comes to mind) and the movements of those dolls.

I got a serious case of blog-pressure last night since you linked our blog in your post..didn't want people coming there to see the old fritatta post, so pushed the next one out of the drafts queue :)

Till the next post then...next Monday or whenever it may be...

Kulsum said...

I'm surely having that papad appetizer on the next party - so simple and sexy!

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I love Dilli Haat! I've been known to spend insane amounts of money there and plan to do so again :D

But never eaten there :|

Frantasticfood said...

Indeed, the tragic and still unfolding events in Japan are gut-wrenching, but your post and look into your visit to India is a helpful diversion.

I too have coasters and bowls and other tzochkies that I picked up during a weekend get away to Agra one when I lived in Bangalore and seeing them right here along with other treasures I picked up, in front of me everyday reminds me of the beauty, color and culture of India.

I always keep papads in the house and your post has inspired me go into the kitchen and cut up some tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro and pack it all away to take to workd for a snack tomorrow. Thanks for the idea!

Lynne Daley said...

So happy your friend is safe. Such a horrific tragedy! Your papads are bright spot!

anthony stemke said...

Pray for Japan.

Anita said...

Good to hear your friend is safe. I hope things improve soon.

Your pics from Dilli Haat turned out real good! It would have been a shame to miss the jalebis...you did the right thing by ditching your resolve!

I had thought there would be a jalebi recipe with that video...? Your readers are going to feel so let down - such a mouth watering delicacy and no way to get to it!

GB said...

Aah dilli haat! Used to be our fave haunt back in the day! Couldn't mange to squeeze in the dilli haat jaunt, did manage to see the metro( dilli ka aajooba!--it was actually clean, no paan and other unmentionables!) Did a whole load of shopping in smaller, local bazaars(kept lingering over the karigaars working on embroidery, dyers dying dupattas and such... Sensory overload, but of the nicest kind!)

It's good to be back--more posts and pictures please! :)