Bhel, Bombay and Bollywood

Bhel

I grew up in Bombay, the capital of Bollywood, India’s hyper-productive film industry, but Bollywood never managed to cast its technicolor spell over me.

I always found the melodrama and over-the-top acting hard to stomach. But there was one aspect of the movies that I just couldn’t resist: the songs crammed between each Romeo-and-Juliet start and Cinderella ending.

Like the movies, called masala movies for obvious reasons, these songs (about half a dozen in each movie, give or take a couple) catered to every mood. There would usually be a raucous song sung by the hero and his friends before he’d found the love of his life, and perhaps one sung by the heroine with her friends. A couple of romantic numbers when the two had finally discovered-after many fights- that they couldn’t live without each other. And a sad one or two after they’d been forced apart by the “villains,” usually their parents. All songs were- and still are in today’s movies-strictly in playback, meaning the voices you heard belonged to people who were not the ones you saw on screen.

Every night, my dad – a big fan of Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand, both popular actors of his childhood – would fall asleep listening to the radio playing Hindi oldies from the ’50s and ’60s. They were silken melodies, sung by India’s greatest playback singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhonsle and Kishore Kumar. The music would drift in from the next room and although I was supposed to be fast asleep, I couldn’t help but lie awake in bed listening to those enchanting voices. I’d want them to never stop, but they did, every night at 11:30, after which the static crackled into the night until my dad woke up to turn the radio off.

Those songs spoke about love, anger, happiness, pain, playfulness and confusion. They left such a lasting influence on me that even today, whether I am high or low, I turn to a familiar song to comfort myself. It may sound corny, but believe me, it never fails.

Still, when Sunshinemom Harini announced her super-fun Jukebox Cooking Challenge event calling on bloggers/cooks to dish out food inspired by a song, I was a little flummoxed because I couldn’t think of a song that inspired me to cook. Until I started to think about why I cooked, and when.

I cook, as I guess many others who love to cook do, when I’m perfectly happy. I cook when I’m sad to make myself happy. And I cook for those I love.

Given this strong connection between food and feelings, I chose a recipe based on a theme that is close to my heart, and ties in perfectly with songs AND food, at least for me. The sea.

Because many Indian movies were shot in Bombay, an island on the Arabian Sea, lots of Indian movie songs happen around the sea. From a pensive Dev Anand singing Jayen to Jayen Kahan, lost and a little turbulent like the vast ocean that unrolls before him, to Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai sung by a frolicking family, to a deep-in-love couple weaving dreams about their future with Do Deewane Sheher Mein, the sea provided a perfect and spectacular backdrop.

When I was growing up, an outing to the sea, which was about a mile from where I lived, was a weekend must. We’d go as a group, with family, friends or both, but no matter how often we went, or with who, one thing was a constant: you absolutely had to have something to eat. That, most often, was roasted, salted peanuts, bought from one of the many vendors who walked around with baskets slung around their necks, or Bhel.

The Bhel would be put together right before your eyes, with a splash of this ingredient and that, and then all of it mixed together with a deft hand and served up in a newspaper cone. The end result was magical and the flavors danced on your tastebuds long after you’d licked every last bit off your fingers.

For the event, to go with my bhel, I chose one of my all-time favorite Hindi songs. I love it in good part because of the absolutely ethereal voice of Lata Mangeshkar which weaves perfectly the image of a rainy, romantic afternoon by the sea (a perfect time for some Bhel! Beware the raw-onion breath, though :)).

I’ve embedded the video of the song because I really wanted to share with all of you its wonderful images of a rain-drenched Bombay in the ’70s when it was, presumably, still a glorious, beautiful city where one could walk for a few minutes on a street without getting smacked in the face by a ton of smog and pollution. The video, shot in South Bombay, includes such landmarks as Flora Fountain (a very brief glimpse) and the Rajabai Tower of Bombay University, all British-era (and now Heritage) architecture.

When Moushumi Chatterjee, the actress in the song, walks along Marine Drive, teetering on the edge of the promenade wall, I am reminded of days long gone but never forgotten. For those unfamiliar with Indian movies, the gawky guy in the video is Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood’s best-known star (not the greatest actor, in my opinion, although I’m sure there are many Indians who’ll disagree.)

Rimjhim Gire Saawan
Sulag Sulag Jaaye Man
Bheege Aaj Is Mausam Mein
Lagi Kaisi Yeh Agan

I hate to translate this because even beautiful songs fall flat in another language, so I’ll give you the gist: she’s singing of the fire that the pouring rain evokes in her heart. Sounds mundane, I know, but in Lata’s voice, it just isn’t.

Here’s to my home, Bombay, the pull of the sea, and those wonderful, wonderful oldies! And thanks, Harini, for hosting this lovely event.


I’m also sending this to Pallavi of All Thingz Yummy who’s hosting the Sunday Snacks- Fix It event.

Bhel

 

Bhel, Bombay and Bollywood
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Indian
Ingredients
  • 3 cups brown-rice crispies
  • 1 cup khara sev (these are the squiggly yellow things you see in the picture, available in Indian grocery stores. I also sometimes find it in the Indian grocery section at Whole Foods)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 green chilies, minced
  • ½ cup coriander leaves, chopped
  • 3 small red potatoes, boiled and finely diced
  • For the date-tamarind chutney:
  • 4 dates, soaked in water about 15 minutes until soft and seeded
  • 1 tsp tamarind extract. If you're cooking with whole tamarind, soak a lime-sized ball in warm water for about 15 minutes, then squeeze out the juices by crushing between your fingers. Discard the solids.
Instructions
  1. Blend the tamarind and dates into a fairly thick paste.
  2. To put together the bhel all you do is mix up all the ingredients, including the date-tamarind chutney. Add salt to taste.
  3. The bhel goes wonderfully with little puris, which are refined-wheat crackers deep fried in oil. Since my bhel is quite healthy, I decided to forego the puris which are also quite easily available at Indian stores.
  4. Enjoy, everyone!

(C) All recipes and photographs copyright of Holy Cow! Vegan Recipes.

Comments

  1. says

    Even for me the beach was a promenade place in weekend. We use to buy tenga mangai pattani sundal, eating in the breeze and hearing the waves sounds, ha that is heaven!
    Lovely beach snack!

  2. says

    Bhel at Girgaum Chowpatty or at Juhu Chowaptty or at Vithal Bhelpuri near Stearling. Nothing to beat.

    Our beloved leader shri Raj must be thankful to Bhayyas for spoiling Mumbaikar’s with such mouthwatering bhelpuris.

  3. says

    Vaishali..lovely write up!!! I almost agree to everything that you’ve mentioned :) First time here..you have a nice space…Bhel is my favorite too and being brought up in Maharashtra myself..can’t miss it for anything :)See you around…

  4. says

    I guess you have been taken out of Bombay but Baombay is still in you.:)
    My cousins live there, and during holidays when we were kids, we would wait for the Bhelpuriwala to turn up in the evening just to indulge in his wares which would leave us weepy from the spice!

    And the those songs………

  5. says

    Oooooooooo!!! I love this post and the bhel. I started humming to the songs you mentioned and had to stop myself to read further!!! Thanks for starting the fun:) The bhel is perfect for rim jhim gire saawan….and how cute AB looks…not at all like his baby:) I loved Moushmi – she had this nice voice that went well with her petite frame and the ‘awkard’ teeth only added to her cuteness!

    Once again, thanks for setting the mood tonite!

  6. says

    Absolutely loved your post Vaishali! I could imagine every scene that you described! And the songs that you’ve quoted and rim jhim gire’ are on my list of favs too. No matter how popular the current songs are, there is something magical and comforting about the oldies. I recently added about 6-8GB of oldies to my song collection :D
    Bhel has to be my favorite chaat item and if there is a beach nearby, bliss!

  7. says

    Hey Vaishali, great post, this is one of my favorite songs and one where I like the video as well as the audio…this song always brings back nostalgic memories of Bombay( a place where I grew up entirely) and the beautiful monsoons there in those days…now of course as you mention it is full of pollution and smog,sad !
    The bhel looks just perfect…

  8. says

    Rim Jhim Gire Sawan.. and Bhel Puri are both my favorites … :) Nice post Vaishali.. Do send this over to Sunday Snacks – Fix It if you’d like to participate..

  9. says

    I too have similar memories like yours. My mom used to here old tamil songs during night…I never used to like them then but afte coming to US I started listening to those types of songs and I like them too. The bhel looks very colorful, brings back all the pleasant memories :)

  10. says

    hey vaishali…..i love this bhel but u know i dont get all the ingredients for making the original one…but now u have made it simple with rice-crispies which is sth i immediately have to try.

  11. says

    I too grew up in Bombay and lived there till I got married and came here. There’s absolutely no place like it for me.
    I am a little shocked and saddened by what’s going on there right now.

  12. says

    Hi Vaishali,
    I hope all is well with your family in Mumbai. It is very horrifying to see what is going on there. My prayers are with all of those who are there.

  13. says

    Hi vaishali,
    I am so glad to read your blog! I told about your blog to Mumbai vegans! We meet once a month. Your recipes are so good!
    We live in Mumbai. We are sad about what has happened here. It will take a while to feel better.
    whenever you do visit Mumbai, you are welcome to visit us. It will be nice connecting with the Vegans in Mumbai.
    Rupa Shah

  14. says

    Jay, I could argue with you on that forever. :) I think the Lata version surpasses Kishore’s any time.
    She’s far more melodious and her voice has that haunting, wistful, yet sweet quality that’s perfect for the rainy day and the lyrics.

  15. says

    I know this is an old post but I just stumbled upon it. I absolutely love the way your posts are so straight from the heart Vaishali. I am not a Mumbaikar, but most of my husband’s family is from there and they always rave and rant about how Mumbai is their lifeline.I have been there once in 2010. But I don’t think a 4 day visit could justice to the multi-dimensional city that Mumbai is. and in the 4 days I did not get to see the Juhu Beach. can you believe that? Oh well, that calls for another visit to his family :) and thank you so much for sharing the song. I grew up in Chennai and my family rarely watches movies or listens to filmy songs. So when some of my friends go on and on about the glorious 70’s era of Hindi songs, I just don’t know what they are talking about. But this song is so mesmerizing. The heroine is pretty and looks REAL unlike the plastic dolls of today. Love the rain drenched feel of Mumbai. I met my husband in the peak monsoon season in Chennai. I remember side-stepping puddles on the way to meeting him and coming home to listen to the pitter patter of raindrops all the while reminiscing about our secret escapades on the streets of Chennai. The song reminds me of all that! Gosh, this is a long comment, but I so loved this post!

    • says

      Thanks, Thamarai, I am glad the post brought back good memories for you: I smiled as I imagined you making your way along the rain-drenched streets of Chennai on your way to your secret trysts. :) I have many great memories of Chennai in the rain too. And yeah, Moushmi Chatterjee is so pretty in a real way, isn’t she? Those surely were the glorious 70s.

  16. says

    Hi Vaishali, I love love your blog. You truly have an almanac of healthy, vegan recipes. I love the bhel recipe you posted, but am unable o find unsweetened brown rice crispies. Can you please let me know what brand you use?
    Thank you!
    Divya

    • says

      Hi Divya, thanks for your lovely words. I bought the crispies at the Indian grocery store here– I don’t remember the brand name because it was a while back. They were not sweetened. The ones you get as cereal in supermarkets here are always sweetened.

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