The Art of Perfect Touchings with Drinks

Good bars usually have their signature bar snacks that are as much of a draw as the ambience of the place. These are generally regional specialities like the beef and fish preparation in Kerala. But the Toddy Shops in the big cities of Kerala such as Ernakulam have probably carried it too far. Some are now more popular for their food rather than the liquor and have become tourist traps. At honest bars, alcohol is the hero and food is only a supporting cast. They do not allow food to take the centre stage and become a distraction cutting down the consumption of its main revenue earner, namely booze.

The best such example I know of is Shaw’s Bar (more popularly called Chota Bristol) in Kolkata’s Dharmatala, in the lane next to the old Metro cinema. They don’t have a kitchen of their own but let approved street vendors come in with items kept on small paper bowls on a tray. Customers take their pick against cash. The items range from sprouted bean salad, green guava chaat, fried chilli chicken, fish fingers, boiled eggs and, of course, fried liver.

The old colonial clubs too have their traditional bar eats. Though the history of the Bhubaneshwar Club does not date back to the days of the Raj, on a fleeting visit there last week, I discovered the unique Papdi Kabab. These are patties made of chenna or paneer but fried with a coating of crushed Papad. Looking at it another way, they combine the goodness of paneer tikka with the tanginess of papad. However, the heart stealer for me was the bori-chura. Roasted and crumbled sun-dried Dal Vadi (lentil dumplings) mixed with onion, green chillies, garlic and tempered with raw mustard oil. It was reminiscent of the Sukuti Sadheko (smoked and dried meat salad) which one has in Nepal prepared in much the same way. Another equivalent of this could be the Goan or Konkani dried prawn Kismur.

As the younger generation gets more discerning about taste and coarse liquor makes way for Single Malts, Aromatic Gins and fine wines – “touchings” could soon be a part of food nostalgia. On the other hand, they have the potential to be turned into exotoc and nouvelle bar eats like Tapas in the hands of innovative new-age master chefs.

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(Sandip Ghose is an author and current affairs commentator. He tweets @SandipGhose.)

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