THE Story of POHA
Poha is basically flattened rice. This is a very important part of the cuisines of the Indian states of Maharashtra (for which Mumbai is the capital) and Madhya Pradesh (shortly MP, is located at the very center of India, hence called Madhya - meaning center).
In MP, it is called Pohe and I was first introduced to this when a close childhood friend/neighbor left me and Chennai and moved to Indore (the 2nd largest city of MP), due to her dad's work. I was 10 when she moved to Indore and we would only see each other during summer holidays after that. But every year when she visited, she had so many stories to tell. Since I had never left Chennai and my state of Tamil Nadu until then, I was listening to all her stories wide-eyed, like Bambi :)
During one such visits, she mentioned how this street food called Pohe was served everywhere in Indore. She also mentioned that Pohe was a huge part of the Indore breakfast and they were always plated and served with a sweet called Jalebi along with it. Now, that fascinated me!
You have to understand that if you hail from Chennai, one of the things you are never used to is, to mix savory food with sweets. You will be served sweets with breakfast like Idlis and Dosas, only when it is a wedding or a celebratory occasion, not on the streets.
Trivia: Even in Tamil cooking, there is no concept of adding sugar to savory foods. Unlike some other Indian cuisines - like the state of Gujarat, where jaggery and sugar is a must in their list of condiments for even savory foods like Dhal and Sambar.
So, when I first heard about the Indori Pohe, I could not wait to try it! And, I went straight to my own mobile restaurant (aka my Mom) and described the dish and its ingredients verbatim - like I had heard from my friend.
My mom keenly listened to everything I said and asked matter-of-factly "You mean you would like to eat some Aval Upma?"
"Oh?" I said, "so we have our own version of Poha?. Awesome! Can you please make some?"
And hence began my first of many Poha encounters. And I was hooked!
Trivia: Poha is called the poor man's food in MP and Maharashtra. This is because of how inexpensive the ingredients of Poha are. Also, there is a very interesting story in the Hindu mythology which depicts Poha and its affordability by the poorest of the poor. Yet again, it does not cease to amaze me.. how inter-twined Indian food is, with Indian culture and mythology!
It was about time, I whipped up my own Poha. And I did just that, thinking about my childhood friend and her Indore adventures...
Frankly, the recipe for Poha is super easy. Yet another reason to love this dish!
The WINE paired with the Poha
Recently, I have been eyeing a Bobal at the wine shop. But, I was not sure what Indian street food to pair with it. Bobal can be a tricky wine among other Spanish wines. Because, unlike the other common Spanish grapes like Tempranillo or Garnacha which have a core of red fruits, the Bobal has a very unique spicy flavor (probably American oak?) to it. So, I was waiting for the connection to happen between a particular Indian street food and the Bobal.
Ta-da! It happened, when I was reminiscing about Poha. The low alcohol content, chewy tannins, high acidity, hints of vanilla bean and red fruits could be magical with the Poha.
So, dutifully I bought the Bobal to try out my theory.
This Bobal was fantastic! Unmistakably, the TONS of red fruits in this wine is what I first smelled and tasted. I think I even got some rhubarb jam! Wow! Where did that come from? And, definitely vanilla bean - as I always remembered the Bobal. This wine is just classy. What can I say? You just had to be there to know!
Look at the color of that wine!
Hmm-hmm-hmm I got splashes of red raspberries and strawberries doused in vanilla when I sipped the Bobal after a spoonful of Poha. The heavy rice and potatoes in the Poha were warmly hugged by the spices and fruits in the Bobal. The alcohol content in this wine was slightly higher (13.5%) than a typical Bobal (which is usually about 11%). Fortunately, the sufficient amounts of acidity served as a great balance.
I had a very content meal - with India's poor man's food and an under-dog wine from Spain.
And by the way, I skipped the Jalebi plating with the Poha - once a Chennai-ite, always a Chennai-ite!
I personally have a special affinity to the Bobal grape, mainly because of its story of evolution from an under-dog grape, to a high flying star from the D.O. of Utiel Requena (near Valencia in south east Spain). It is indigenous to Spain and is the 3rd most planted grape in Spain following the Airen and Tempranillo grapes. But, for a very long time, the Bobal was not paid the attention it was due, it was discarded as some obscure, indigenous Spanish grape.
But, that has been changing since the 1990s. With new wineries and vineyards that are starting to see the beauty of this grape, and its 'meant-to-be-in-Valencia' flavors, the newer Bobals are entering the market and causing quite the stir!
I cannot wait to get my hands on more such Bobal wines and witness its journey from the 'under-dog' status to its well deserved stardom!