As I had recounted in an earlier blog, growing up in India in the seventies and eighties was a simpler life. There was a phase in the seventies when my family would visit Kumara Park in Bangalore with my cousins and friends. While the grown ups sat on the grass and socialized, we kids would run around the park either playing”Robbers and police”, “hide and seek” or just plain running around. The park abounded in Gul Mohar trees and we stuck the sepals of the flowers to our nails and pretended we were monsters and chased each other around.
Our activities would be interrupted when the peanut or groundnut vendor made his entrance. The vendor would push a cart that had a stove in the center and on the stove would be a large vessel that contained boiled peanuts in their shells. There would be a large pile of raw peanuts on the cart and a stack of square pieces of paper placed within hand’s reach of the vendor. Depending on the size of the order, the vendor would pick an appropriate piece of paper, expertly roll it into a cone, measure peanuts with a cylindrical measuring cup, throw in a couple of peanuts for good measure and hand it over.
The grown ups would buy a few cones and we would sit happily on the grass in a circle, peeling and eating the peanuts. The salty hot peanuts would be a delicious treat on a cold evening. These peanut vendors would push their carts around and it was common to find them outside schools or offices, anywhere people were likely to congregate. Years later, when driving through Georgia, I found peanuts cooking in a slow cooker at a gas station. They are called boiled goobers here and it reminded me of those evenings in Bangalore!
Peanuts are an affordable snack in India and fairly ubiquitous. The names may vary – “moong phalli” in North India, “kadale kai” in Karnataka, “bhui muug” in Marathi but they are equally popular all over India. They are not indigenous to India and were most likely introduced by the Portuguese considering that they are South American in origin. Vendors would visit my grandfather’s house in Bombay with flat baskets containing chickpeas and shelled peanuts. Once we placed our order, a shallow metal pan with coal embers would be placed on a pile of peanuts and when they were roasted, they would be wrapped in the paper cone. Another favorite was “Congress”, spicy peanut halves that were stored in large glass jars in grocery stores. Ten paise was enough for a small paper cone.
My mother would fry peanut “bhajes” at home. Shelled peanuts were coated with a marinade made of chilli powder, salt and gram flour and deep fried. These were addictive and one could eat tons of them at time. On a recent visit home, I picked up a few packets of these from the New Mangalore stores in Malleswaram. They also sell a green variety.
Chintamani peanuts are probably not known outside Karnataka. My friend Deepu’s grandmother used to make these at home. The peanuts are coated with a spicy masala and dry roasted. Chintamani is a place close to Bangalore and I assume is the origin of these peanuts. These are also available at the New Mangalore stores and go very well with beer!
Peanut bhel is served across pubs and bars in India as beer food. As with any other beer food, the peanuts makes one thirsty and the beer slakes the thirst! Aparna makes a mean peanut bhel at home and I guess she will post the recipe sometime. Roadhouse Grill’s here in the US have a bucket of peanuts on each table, patrons shell the peanuts and throw the shells on the floor where they accumulate through the day and I presume they are cleaned up at night.
I’ll end my rambling on one of my favorite snacks, with a song by one of my favorite singers, Dean Martin’s rendition of “The Peanut Vendor”, based on the the original “El Manisero” a popular Cuban song.