I just came back from an eating spree in Vadodara, Gujarat. I was there for a day to lecture at a local university, and I could not disregard that persistent, nearly nagging urge to step out into the night and sample the street food. It was a warm Vadodara evening, driving through the old parts of the city under the shadowy Mandvi gate, the silhouette of the Laal Court and the twinkling lights reflected on the Sur Sagar lake, past the Lehripura Gate that took me straight into the womb of the city. What I had quite forgotten was that beyond Mahakali’s famous Maharashtra influenced Sev-Usal, there is a huge Maharashtrian influence in Vadodara (since it was part of the erstwhile Maratha kingdom).
Apart from Vadodara’s oldest Bhajiya shop Lalakaka, who make spicy, crispy, slightly sweet ‘Muthiya’ served with raw spiced onions. And beyond Sriram’s complex mixture of ‘Chivda Sev’, onions, raw mango, grapes and spices that makes his famous ‘Tam Tam’. And Manmohan Na Daalwada and Samosa, Pyarelal Ni Kachori, spicy as hell, there is a huge culture of eating eggs on the road.
This I discovered when I first encountered Rajesh Bhogilal Rana, better known as Raju, about two decades ago. He ran a handcart in the Karelibaug, selling just omelettes, Bhurji and half-fry eggs. Unknowingly, he was fuelling this predominantly vegetarian population’s desire to cheat on their austere diet. Most Gujaratis at that time did not eat eggs at home, leave alone chicken, meat of fish. And like most humans, we have always been attracted to what’s not within our reach. It’s as if the forbidden automatically becomes irresistibly attractive for us. Like we all have an innate need to satisfy our curiosity and free ourselves from the restrictions placed on us by society. And when it comes to vegetarians, the egg is the apple of temptation, and the odd omelette was a lesser sin and guilt trip for the pure vegetarian.
From selling just Bhurji, omelette and fried eggs, Raju evolved into an egg wizard. He knew his market; he knew of their forbidden desires and he knew what flavours his customers would relish. So, into his eggs, he added spice mixes, usually reserved for meat and north Indian non-vegetarian delicacies, like Tandoori Masala, Green Curry Masala, garlic, green chillies, tomato gravies and oodles of butter and cheese. He shredded boiled eggs and mixed them in fried eggs, he fried spicy Bhurji and wrapped it in an omelette. He created gravies that were served with eggs and elan.
I visited ‘Raju Omlet’, specifically spelt with one ‘t’, after nearly 12 years. It’s a bustling stall, that even on a Monday night was packed with people. Raju himself, now older, sat at a desk a bit like a senior bank manager with his calculator, leger, order sheet and a cash register that was ringing all the time. His backdrop a wall of egg trays full of eggs. There must be at least 5,000 eggs all waiting to be cooked. He now has half a dozen cooks frying, mixing, whipping eggs in his large open kitchen alongside. The din and hiss of frying butter and metal spatulas beating down on large tawas, makes music to my ears. Aromas of spices, caramelised onion, frying garlic, and fried eggs envelope the humid Baroda night.
His menu now is a peek inside his culinary imagination and ability to mix flavours creating unusual combinations of egg recipes. I start off with the “Egg Crush Fry” – grated boiled eggs, crushed with fried eggs, all sautéed together in green chillies, coriander and masalas. Eaten with hot buttered bread just of the tawa, it’s a silky and buttery explosion of flavours. “Boiled Tikka”- two hard boiled eggs in a chicken tikka masala. Literally, like an initiation into the world of Mughlai food. Other dishes just bear numbers, not names. Like “Raju 13” a Bhurji, with gravy wrapped in an omelette. And there is “Raju 16”, a thick red gravy with boiled eggs, and scrambled eggs and spices. Between the four dishes that I sampled there was probably a whole 500 gm pack of Amul Butter used.
As I was leaving his kitchen buzzing with a dozen cooks, I went up to Raju and asked him, “Do you cook yourself anymore?” As if I had challenged him, he jumped up and went to the huge metal tawa on the fire. Broke two eggs, and before I could figure out what he was doing, quickly added a few ingredients, a couple of spices, turned the eggs upside down, grated some cheese, flipped them around, warmed up some bread and thrust the plate into my hand. They were the best eggs I had eaten in my life. I asked him what they were called, and he said, I should decide on the name, since he had impulsively, improvised and created these eggs. I decided to call them Raju’s Utla Pulta Eggs.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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