Sunday, March 3, 2013

Burmeen Pakoras

What do vegetarians do when they visit places where  people  draw a great deal  of their sustenance from the sea? This is not really much of a dilemma when there is an abundance of vegetables and fruit, even though sea food is referred to rather appropriately, as fruit from the sea. Goa allowed us to experiment with abundant  fresh pineapple, breadfruit and delicious perada , a hardened version of guava jelly cut into barfi like pieces.

At Port Blair, we discovered Burmeen pakodas. The name seemed intriguing  and as it was listed under vegetarian snacks, we ordered a plate at the Megapode Nest while we  nursed chilled beers and stared into the turquoise and teal  blue waters. Burmeen pakoras turned out to be julien cut vegetables such as carrot, potato and cauliflower, which were dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried with a smatering of fennel seed or saunf for that distinctive flavour. It  established a  connect with the geography and the history,  because Burma itself is not very far away from Port Blair, hence Burmeen pakoras,  must have evolved from  older and  linked food cultures that wafted along  the coasts.?

There is something about  salt  water and air that sets up a yearning for pakoras, so the following day after a long bout in the water, while we idled at North Bay island and waited for our boat to come back for us, we were struck by pakora-lust yet again. We wandered into a small  enclosure with several stalls selling odds and ends  and  stopped to order tea at a make shift  tea stall. It was late afternoon, so seeing a huge mound of still warm pakodas, we  ordered some. Jasmine, who wo-manned   the stall  plied us with a  newspaper cone full and plenty of  hot sweet tea to wash down the pakoras with.
Soaking up the warm tropical December sun, our bellies full of pakoras and tea, we chatted with her. She was from Kerala and  kept a stall at North Bay during the tourist season. Her husband worked  on North Bay itself, so she could add a little money  to the household by selling tea, biscuits, chips, and cool drinks.
The weather is very nice, Jasmine confided, but vegetables are very costly. Most of it seemed to come from the mainland, from Calcutta. Only  green and yellow tender coconuts, small  local mangoes and spice grew in abundance. On our third day as well we stopped for tea, this time near  Chiditop and partook of  giant green batter dipped  chillies and smaller vegetable pakoras.

We met a lot of people in Port Blair from Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala whose  migrant parents had put down roots on the islands.  There were plenty of shops run by moms at walking distance from the Megapode where several salt and sweet snacks and groceries and provisions were being sold. The Megapode Nest  itself served a selection of meals that  spoke of links  between the north and the south of India, with the occasional gobhi manchurian disguised as fritters. Breakfast comprised  iddlis , chutney, sambaar and oothaapam, and bread, jam,  tiny bananas and eggs. Lentils brown or  yellow, chappatis, rice, and vegetables were around for lunch and dinner., along with a selection of mutton, chicken or fish. Dessert was custard,  gulab jamuns, rasgollas in condensed milk and delicious sevaian and rice kheers.

Also memorable were the kulfis that were sold by solo entrepreneurs at tourist spots all over the islands. These were delicious milk lollies, taken out from the deep recesses of a large earthenware jar. When you ordered one, a  stick was inserted into the tiny plastic container in which the lolly was frozen.  Effortlessly extricated from its mould and   handed over,it  filled the mouth with the  cool, sweet,  cardamom- flavoured secrets of milk and memories of an older time.

The most seamless assimilation of the old and the new, which one member of the scuba diving team  brought to my attention was the logo of (AFC)Andaman Fried Chicken, which occupies pride of place  in Port Blair. A grinning chicken dominates the logo in red and white atop imposing glass exteriors. The chicken, remarked the young man, was rather upbeat about its place in the food consumption chain, unlike its melancholy cousin from the KFC chain.


  1. Oh for sea, salt, a chilled beer, and a huge mound Burmeen pakodas! And breakfast any morning at the Megapode Nest. What an evocative name--sounds like something straight out of an Amitav Ghosh novel.

  2. An absolutely divinely delicious write up ......... Love the word "wo-manned" .... charming and innovative

  3. I felt restless early on in the article ( I hope you know your pieces about travel and food always do that to your readers ), but thankfully by the time I reached the chicken logo, I could laugh the feeling off. :) What a life you lead and what a mind you have! :D

  4. Mmmmmm! A mouthwatering account of the Andamans Ratna! Salivating for a taste of Burmeen Pakoras right now. Been planning a trip for decades. Hope to do it soon. And, if we make it this year, your blog would get the credit