Note to non-BD-ites: This may not make any sense, and don't get me wrong, our canteen is lovely. But being written for The BD Broadcast it had to be extra exaggerated and humourous- have a read if you want :)
BD-ites: this is the full version of the article in the most recent BD Broadcast issue.
“Oily and hairy!”
“I’m lovin’ it”
“Nice and spicy...”
Like most of the food, my interviews with students at the GD canteen could end up quite heated.
Of course, many chose to be ‘white bread’ with their remarks: decidedly bland.
But with my loyal taster by my side, 3 days of tasting, asking and snooping have culminated in: The Ultimate GD Canteen Review and Guide.
Paneer Chili vs. Chinese Bhel
The argument over these two dishes is as divided as I am over dark chocolate and milk chocolate.
In other words, there’s no conclusive decision... so go with both!
Most people find the paneer chili spicy, addictive, and filled with soft and perfect paneer.
My opinion? I tried it once in the 8th grade, and I was not going to go there again... besides, I don’t think it’s ever going to stop haunting me. It’s like a gelatinous, red mess with emulsified, soggy-batter-coated paneer, onions and capsicum.
But I’m not very opinionated.
The chinese bhel- crispy, red, spicy, creative and claimed by some as unhealthy- is a huge hit in the canteen, and the subject of many BD Broadcast and MUN jokes. In all honesty, it wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t have the stomach to have full plate... we just stole a bite from a devout 11th grade chinese-bheler.
The dosas... some say it’s the best thing there, some say it’s the worst. Some even claimed, convinced and aghast, that they had seen one of the cooks put tap water in the batter. Whatever it is, you can’t deny their popularity. They’re quick, crispy, a little spicy and their fillings are well-balanced: not overloaded with cheese, nor is the masala green with chillies. Just try to ignore the black cloth that’s used to wipe the griddle each time...
The manchurian roll is allegedly like pav bhaji: red, indistinguishable, spicy (noticing a theme here?) and messy, while its cousin the cheese corn roll is delicate, cute, spicy, corny and cheesy (much like The Broadcast). One expert offered her advice: “You need to be an experienced Subway-eater to eat it properly”.
My review helper had an ingenious idea: she broke it in half and ate it like bruschetta... well done for thinking outside the bun.
Which brings me on to bruschetta. Most people in my class didn’t believe our canteen (‘our canteen?!’) had bruschetta, but low and behold, there were little plates with dainty slices of baguette topped with fresh tomatoes and basil.
What are they trying to do, make us eat real food? Where’s the masala? Tomatoes? Who needs tomatoes, when you’ve got perfectly good ketchup?
Jokes aside, I liked it. The bread was slightly soggy from the tomato juice, but it was refreshing to see some nutritious food on offer.
One day, something caught my eye, and not in a good way. I mustered up the courage to try the masala bread. Essentially it’s a fluffy, starch-white pillow of bread, topped with puréed green chillies and tomatoes. At least, that’s what my burning, mush-filled mouth told me it was. If you love spicy food, and aren’t obsessed with wholewheat bread, then by all means enjoy some masala pav... it grows on you. Or maybe my taste buds just went numb.
The idlis were good... well, idlis are idlis. Rice. Steamed rice.
But the chutney is definitely a success- it’s balanced, it didn’t set my tongue on fire, and it’s really coconutty. One person said it was “The best thing she’d ever eaten. Ever.”
I think that says more about the person
Who guessed food colouring? Congratulations! The paneer chili’s signature redness does not come from tomatoes, or even chilies...
As for the chinese bhel, the artificial ingredient is... brace yourselves... ketchup. It actually is really bad for you, but I honestly don’t envisage India parting with its beloved ‘sauce’ any time soon.
They use sunflower oil, and bake their bread in the canteen: next time you’re there, look at the back and watch them put in and pull out trays upon trays of buns, and try and spot their sandwich bread slicer.
The canteen is open, breezy, bright and friendly. You talk, you eat, you walk around... going back there after more than two years really made me look at it differently. In the 8th grade you’re this awkward, new, self-conscious and shy little kid. The ambience changes so much when you’re meeting your friends in all the grades, laughing about the food you remember and the new things you’re trying.
The canteen food is spicy, it’s strange, and the hygiene is open to debate.
But we can’t disgrace it entirely- after all, as one person put it: “Although we wanna shut the canteen, I’m sure we’ll all miss the food.”
It’s our canteen.
(Even though it's GD's...)
I asked my mum if I could make the noodles today, because we've had them hundreds of times but I've never actually made them. It's pretty simple and I did a lot of experimenting with whatever Chinese sauces we had in stock at the time.
Just fry about 1/2 an onion and a small chunk of peeled and finely chopped ginger in a wok with sesame oil. Pan-fry some chopped tofu in a skillet and wash and chop some beans and broccoli. Add the vegetables and the tofu to the wok with some soy sauce. Cook and add some hoisin sauce & black pepper sauce (maybe start with a teaspoon of each).
Cook the noodles according to the instructions, add them to the wok, add more soy sauce, hoisin sauce and black pepper sauce to flavour it. Lightly toss the noodles to even out the colour. Season with salt and serve!
This is just a template- use any other vegetables you want, any other soy products, or any meat and add chinese seasoning if you have some.
Another conversion challenge...
I don't like tofu.
I just don't.
Unless it's fried or drenched in peanut sauce, get that wobbly, bland block away from me.
I think I was meant to be non-vegetarian, I just have a problem with the way animals nowadays are raised and slaughtered. If I find a free-range farm I like one day, who knows? I may become non-vegetarian.
But for now I'm not and tofu is something rather unavoidable.
Remember the task I set myself to make a cauliflower dish that my mum likes? Well this was like that. I wanted to cook something with tofu (not deep-fried or peanut- bathed) that was enjoyable.
This recipe looked simple and Madhur Jaffrey said it is her favourite tofu dish. It was really easy and, I'll be very honest, I liked it.
There were a lot of flavours in the sauce and for once, I didn't swallow down my tofu as quickly as possible. I actually savoured it!
So even for you tofu-haters (I totally get you), I suggest you try this. It's well worth it and really easy.