Saturday, 13 August 2016

The chutney sandwich

My visits to NCPA Mumbai to watch plays early evening were always marked by having a chutney sandwich and a hot steaming glass of syrupy sweet milky tea. This would be a light snack that was just such a perfect way to meet your evening pangs while not spoiling your appetite for dinner, and giving you enough sustenance to last through the play.

When I think about it the humble chutney sandwich has been a significant accompaniment in my life and also a reminder of how lucky I was to meet some really generous souls. The chutney seemed to be a common factor across all of them

First a clarification.  I am not at all enamored or so much of an anglophile to like that tepid, tasteless finger food offered at British high teas the world over. I in fact despise that and eat it only due to a lack of choice.  I know what I am referring to Sandwiches which are a cousin to this but I perceive these so distant that they are night and day. Also my sandwiches are marked by personal touches.

The green chutney is the common definer for them and different folks have a different recipe. Usually some green leaves (usually coriander), made into a paste with ingredients like grated coconut, some green chillies, some tamarind or lime, some jaggery etc. and different folks add different special touches to them.

Usually these last for about a week refrigerated and need to be completed early to prevent the taste getting spoiled.

My mom used to also make this chutney which was close to what was being served with snacks like Samosas, and had a strong dose of the tamarind paste in it.  Somehow this was not as great with bread, but went fantastically well with deep fried snacks.

One of my first chutney sandwiches I had was from an office colleague in Mumbai. Her maid used to make this on the weekend, to help my colleague make her lunchbox easily and quickly through the week.  We used to love eating this, and since everyone ate this my generous colleague LF would bring a loaf of bread and a box of this chutney and we used to help ourselves.  it tasted fantastic, and through the years I worked there, the taste of the chutney rarely changed. It was a fabulous recipe that was a winner.

When I was in Dubai another colleague FP used to help me sometimes by bringing me a sandwich made early in the morning but would surprisingly last through the day without melting into a messy piece of dough considering the ingredients that went into it. She would lightly toast some white bread apply the chutney generously add in a few tomatoes and cucumber and sometimes onion and make two layers (double decker) and give this to me in the morning wrapped in tin foil. Eventually when I would eat it, I would just marvel at how it wouldn't have become soggy and would still be robust enough for me to eat each piece individually.  The marvel about her sandwiches that she prepared for me generously a few times was that each one was unique and I would ask her why it tasted different. She would sometimes add a small spoon of mango jam, or pineapple jam or throw in some raisins or something sweet and each one would enhance the sandwich and blow it outta water.

I got to eat other forms of chutney sandwiches including in the UK and in the colonial outposts that followed the brit formula, but the Indian ones were the best.  An added benefit of this robust recipe that seems to have heft in both mass as well as flavor, is that it is rich in fibre which compensates for the whiteness and lack of flavour in white bread.

The NCPA sandwich was remarkable in the fact that it was such a simple snack in one of the most sophisticated environments (socialites, industrialists and corporate c-suites etc.). The patrons would grab that brown parcel containing this sandwich and grab a bite - it seemed to equalize everyone as we stood in line at the canteen and waited to be served by the staff there. 

Street vendors especially in South Mumbai and the restaurants across India also make the club sandwich which is a version of the chutney sandwich but I seem to have lost a taste for them (especially since they throw in things like potatoes, cheese etc.) and since it is eaten with ketchup you really cant enjoy the chutney as much.  Also when I ate this from a street vendor first (at the college in the lane near church gate station) who was popular amongst the students, I survived the sandwich and it was good.  Nearly two decades later when I had a similar one in Nariman point - while it was ok in taste, gave me a tummy ache not to forget. Guess I am getting old and cant be as adventurous with street food. I gave it a wide berth. 

My wife also makes a batch of chutney sometimes and now we have it with wholemeal or brown bread and its absolutely a fantastic combination. We sometimes add butter, but it can be eaten by itself. 

But for me the best thing is that with each bite I am reminded of the great times that I had with each chutney sandwich and the wonderful generous folks in my life who supported and cared for me through this humble sandwich. Their sandwiches not only sustained my hunger but also was a caring soothing generous balm for my soul and I really cannot thank them enough for each morsel I have eaten.

God bless them.