Crave Reviews | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
March 08, 2021

Crave Reviews

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographed by Mallika Chandra

Is communal snacking a thing of the past? And what sort of comfort are we now searching for in that evening plate of chaat or bag of chips? Verve considers the time between meals during fraught days

At 4 p.m. every afternoon, an alarm goes off in my head. Snack time! This is the only hour in days broken by three meals that I reach for well, anything that lies in jars, boxes and packets. Biscuits, banana chips, Lay’s, dry bhel, chaklis – all the things that made work afternoons at the office more meaningful, preferably over a mug of hot tea and invigorating conversations with colleagues. I recall that the best days were those when some kind soul decided to microwave popcorn in the office pantry, the aroma drifting through the entire space as the white bag moved crunchily from hand to impatient hand and work-related tensions dropped momentarily.

Oh for those pre-pandemic days of communal snacking…. And yet, even as work-from-home has become a thing, the mid-afternoon alert never fails me. Connecting me to that sense of camaraderie, of purpose and well-being. I reach for the same simple, uncomplicated snacks that we drew out of desk drawers, treasures stuffed into corners. I place them carefully at the far edge of my open-paged diary, a plate will not do at this time, and I munch my lonely way through a packet of crackers that the young sub editor at the desk behind me so loves. I ruminate on the joys of community and purpose, and I get on with working remotely.

If, as it is said, you are what you eat, then, you definitely are also what you reach out for in between mealtimes. So, while I call out to safety and a previous, uncomplicated era every time that I pop an almond or cashew into my mouth, my husband stress-eats through half of an entire jar of chivda (savoury mix) as he frowns furiously at his laptop. My son, on the other hand, indulges in cold leftovers from the fridge at midnight, a habit dictated perhaps by long hours spent employed as a chef in a restaurant kitchen. While we all indulge in different snacking habits, at this time, these quick treats help us cope so much better with our fears and tensions, with thoughts of endless weeks cooped up at home, with getting perpetually in each other’s way. There is nothing, I discover, that a good, strong bite into a sweet mawa cake will not cure. A cup of masala chai for added comfort.

“For some, eating has always been a way to cope with stress. Those who do struggle with disordered eating patterns (binge eating, severe food restriction, purging) have really found it difficult during the pandemic. Especially in the beginning when things were not easily available and people had to make do. For those who have a complicated relationship with food, the changes in diet due to availability of resources and alternations in lifestyle has definitely been an adjustment,” says mental health professional Tanya Percy Vasunia, who has also discovered herself snacking more than usual while in WFH mode. “After a long day I am more inclined to have a glass of wine or whiskey with my father as a way of unwinding,” she confesses.

You can get creative with snacking, or you can walk down nostalgia lane and reach far into a comfortably secure past. On a day that I discovered my snack bins quite empty, with refills difficult to come by towards the beginning of the lockdown, desperation had me clicking suddenly into a childhood memory of getting home from school to the previous day’s stale chapattis heated up on a tawa, smeared with butter, liberally sprinkled with sugar, and rolled up into a cigar. Now, as I crunch into the roti-sugar concoction and inhale the scent of melted butter, I am a girl again, asking for more. And I feel safe and cosy, confident that no one and nothing can harm me.

Speaking with some city folk on their snacking habits during these bleak days, I stumble upon an interesting commonality. While people may have increased their snacking, they are also being more careful about what they are putting down. Healthy snacking seems to be the order of the day – or at least a good mix with the not-so-healthy. “The pandemic has created a 180-degree turn in terms of lifestyle. We have had to reassess our eating habits, and we are recognising the importance of nutrition and its role in building and maintaining our immunity. The pandemic has made us feel vulnerable, and, naturally, we are keen to work on reducing those uncomfortable feelings,” Vasunia explains. “With restaurants closed, people in cities have had to cook for themselves; they have been forced to reconnect with food and the ingredients, to research…this has been the gateway for a number of food-related debates –  such as organic versus non organic, locally sourced versus imported goods and so on – to come to the fore,” she adds.

“I am a big believer in self-care; it is an integral part of being mentally healthy. If it helps my clients feel better and cope better to have that scoop of ice cream, a chunk of cheese or that glass of wine, I encourage them to just go for it. Being kind to yourself is key,” she says.

As for me, those tidbits make bleak headlines look just a little bit less menacing, and for a moment, I can break free of the walls that incessantly surround me while demolishing a bag of crisps.

Verve gets the lowdown on how snacking habits have changed during the pandemic….

Devika Patel, Mumbai 

Founder and CEO, Clarity Business Lab; Founder/Lawyer at The Bombay Legal

What has your relationship with food been like, particularly with snacking?
I truly live to eat, so my day is pretty much spent thinking about my next meal…I would say it’s quite an “intimate” relationship! And snacking is definitely something that gets me through the day; it keeps my energy levels and mood up.

How does food interact with your work-from-home schedule?
Without the fixed routine that comes with working in an office space, and with work and non-work hours becoming one big blur, food and mealtimes do actually bring some structure to the day. It becomes a time to take that little break, catch up with my partner and refuel.

Your most satisfying snacks?
I love chaat, so a home-made bhel or Bengali jhaal muri (street snack made of puffed rice, spices, mustard oil)…. (I’m married to a Bengali, so this is a new entrant in my snack menu!) My favourite munchies are makhanas (fox nuts). I can eat that any time of the day or night. My ultimate comfort snack is Maggi [noodles] – nothing like a late-night Maggi for that peckish feeling you get sometimes after midnight!

How have your snacking habits changed during the pandemic?
I snack more frequently I think, but my options are healthier because everything is pretty much home-made. Also, living with my husband, who is relatively more health conscious, I end up having more nutritious choices around for an evening snack. I  normally wouldn’t shy away from the idea of ordering samosas around 5 p.m., but that’s been replaced with maybe an open-face tuna sandwich, a soup or a quinoa stir-fry (which is my husband’s favourite).

Do you feel mentally satiated or physically happy after snacking?
I reach for the snacks when I’m feeling a little energy slump, so it is a pick-me-up. It is definitely more mental than physical, though! I snack mainly for the pleasure of it.

What do you find yourself snacking on most often? Why?
Makhanas. They’re versatile, easy to prepare, light, healthy and so yum!

Do your snacking choices make you feel connected in any way to a larger community? Do some snacks connect you to your childhood?
Chaat, one of my top snacks, has been a childhood favourite and a favourite snack of my mum and my nani. I have distinct memories of getting sev puri whenever I was at my nani’s house as a child and of my mum getting me bhel from our local vendor every evening when I was in school, always prepared just the way I liked it. With Maggi as well, I think it’s a comfort food not because of what it tastes like but really due to the nostalgia and familiarity that it always elicits.

Do your snacks come out of a packet or do you prefer to put them together yourself? Do you plan your snacks for the day or just grab what’s available?
Depends on the day, but I do prefer putting them together myself. I don’t plan snacks – my days are very dynamic and often quite hectic, so it’s hard to “snack prep”. However, I do try and avoid over-snacking and limit myself to snacks just in the evenings and at night, if need be.

Recipe: The Elevated Late-Night Cheese Maggi

Ingredients:

Maggi noodles, 1 packet
Cheese cube (grated), 1
Mushrooms (sliced), 4-5/a handful
Garlic (chopped small), 3-4 pods
Pepper, to taste
Basil leaves, a few
Butter, 1 tablespoon
Oil, 1 tablespoon
Salt, to taste

Method: In a pan take some butter (add a little oil to the butter), add the garlic and cook slightly. Add the mushrooms, salt, pepper and continue sautéing until mushrooms are cooked. In a separate pot, boil the water for Maggi and add just the noodles in (not the masala yet). Allow the noodles to cook, drain the excess water (not entirely but just enough for it to be soupy) and add the masala and some of the grated cheese. Add in the sautéed mushrooms. Add pepper to taste (I like it spicy and peppery) and some roughly hand-cut basil leaves. Add a small knob of butter, and water as needed if it’s thickening too much because of the cheese.

Recipe: Spicy Makhanas

Ingredients:
Raw Makhanas, ½ kg
Ghee, 1 tablespoon
Red chilli powder, 1 tablespoon
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Turmeric, a pinch

Method: In a kadai (deep pan), add a generous tablespoon of ghee and let it warm. Add the raw makhanas and start roasting them. Once they get some colour and have pretty much absorbed all the ghee, add salt (to your taste), a little pinch of turmeric and sugar; and give it a further roast. The salt will roast the makhanas to a slightly darker hue. When ready, add the red chilli powder and continue roasting for a quick 10 seconds more before taking it off the stove.


Amrish Kondurkar, New Delhi

Artist, Art Director, Graphic Designer

What has your relationship with food been like, particularly with snacking?
I love food! Snacks have always been more of a nostalgic experience, whether it’s thin, fried local wafers or spicy bhujia sev, again local and not packaged. Vada pav or sabudana (sago) vada at Prakash or jalebi and farsan (fried savoury snacks) – the list goes on. Snacks and snacking have always been a ritual in Bombay, where I grew up.

How does food interact with your work-from-home schedule?
Well, since I moved far away from home to New Delhi, street snacking had shifted to packaged snacks. I can’t really step out spontaneously to eat aloo tikki (potato patties); the geographical route to get anything to eat in Delhi has to be planned. So, the best thing is to get a packet of Haldiram’s bhujia sev and Jim Jam biscuits for a quick fix.

But the lockdown has changed my eating habits. Now, I try to make a salad or hung curd dip or eat a carrot or even a peanut butter toast or a banana. Sometimes I order momos from the nearby market. The whole idea or awareness of eating healthy, with social media inundating you with workout/fitness regimes, is overwhelming. So, the need to be seen as fit or feel healthy has increased. But, of course, bhujia does help you get through a hectic Zoom call!

Your most satisfying snacks?
There are a few — green chilli cheese toast, Haldiram’s bhujia, Mota’s wafers and kanda bhaji (onion pakoras), Bombay sandwich (I have cracked the recipe to make it at home in Delhi).

Are you a lone snacker or do snacks bring togetherness?
Sadly both.

How have your snacking habits changed during the pandemic?
I was stuck in Goa for five months with a friend, from the first day of the lockdown. Anushree is a foodie, and I am lazy when it comes to cooking, but I did try my bit of Konkani cooking. I absolutely fell in love with Goan bread, and it brought back all my nostalgia for pav from Bombay. That bread literally saved my life – it goes with egg or even hummus. So, I started exploring the breads of Goa (poee, butterfly and ring bread), made lots of salads, cooked stews in coconut milk and so on.

What do you find yourself snacking on most often? Why?
Now, back in Delhi, I have avoided buying any of the packaged snacks. I mostly try and cook all my meals myself. And I have just chai and rusk, if you can call that snacking.

Do you snack merely for pleasure or is there something more to it?
Pleasure with conscious eating….

Recipe: Bombay Sandwich

Ingredients for green chutney:
Green chillies (chopped), 3
Coriander leaves, 2 handfuls
Garlic cloves, 5
Salt, to taste
White or Brown Bread, 1 slice

Ingredients for sandwich:
White or Brown Bread, 2 slices
Amul butter, according to preference
Beetroot (boiled and sliced), 1
Tomato (sliced), 1
Amul cheese cube (grated), 1
Chaat masala, a pinch

Method: Grind the chutney ingredients in a mixer. To get the correct street-style texture, add one slice of white or brown bread without the crust and grind again. Spread the Amul butter and green chutney on one side of each of the two slices of white or brown bread. Layer one slice with beetroot and tomato slices. Sprinkle chaat masala and grated Amul cheese. Top with the other slice of bread and toast the sandwich if you like; I prefer it untoasted.


Naveli Choyal, New Delhi and Ajmer

Art director, Photographer, Stylist

What has your relationship with food been like, particularly with snacking?
My relationship with food is multifaceted; it varies with every season, region, festival, mood, and a whole lot of emotions. When it comes to snacking, it includes both healthy and sometimes unhealthy choices. I have been a “snacking person” ever since I was a teenager; I’ve always preferred having multiple small meals rather than one big meal. Having said that, currently I have been snacking on anything that has garam taseer (hot food to increase the body heat) to survive the brutal cold.

Your most satisfying snacks?
I basically love anything spicy, so my go-to would be sukhi (dry) roti and lahsun (garlic) ki chutney, which is always stocked in my fridge. But apart from that, I love snacking on bhadang (snack of puffed rice), dhani (a kind of chivda), til-papdi (a sweet with sesame seeds) and the great variety of namkeen and sev (both savoury and sweet) available in local markets.

Are you a lone snacker or do snacks bring togetherness?
Lately, snacking has become an act of togetherness. Due to COVID-19, all my cousins travelled back home. Since everyone lives normally in different cities/countries, we were re-introduced to various snacking options from different cultural backgrounds during our time together. We savoured Indian dishes like appam (South Indian pancake), paddu (made of rice and black lentils batter), missal (Maharashtrian breakfast snack), baingun bhaja (fried aubergine), kasundi (Bengali variety of mustard sauce for dipping), amla churi (gooseberry snack) to crepes, churros, focaccia…. We also experimented with various dips and chutneys.

Do your snacking choices make you feel connected in any way to a larger community? Do some snacks connect you to your childhood?
Definitely! I have grown up with amazing recipes from my grandmother that represent her time in the village and our culture. But, over time, these recipes have been lost in transition, so there is a continuous effort being put into understanding these traditional recipes and making them a part of modern life. The food that our ancestors ate had its regional and seasonal significance, and they had a great amount of knowledge to treat food as medicine by just cooking certain grains in different ways, combining different foods, changing temperatures etc. It is amazing! Each recipe has been passed down over ages and was made with labour, love and great knowledge of locally grown vegetables and grains.

Do your snacks come out of a packet or do you prefer to put them together yourself? Do you plan your snacks for the day or just grab what’s available?
I don’t plan my meals at all. But lately, I have been reading up on and following the principles of Ayurveda, so I try to consider the ingredients of my meals and snacks according to my dosha (the three energies that circulate in the body). One thing I make sure of is that everything is cooked at home, preferably with seasonal and regional ingredients.

Do you snack merely for pleasure or is there something more to it?
I enjoy both the process of preparing and eating. It also holds emotional value for me because it makes me wonder that, if I don’t learn and understand them, how will these recipes be passed on to the generations to come? I feel part of a greater motive in reviving these traditional family recipes by just practising them on a daily basis.

Recipe: Ghooghri
(can be prepared both ways – savoury ad sweet) 

Savoury
Ingredients:
Wheat grains, 1 cup
Salt, to taste
Red chilli powder, 1 teaspoon
Lemon (sliced), ½
Ghee, 2 teaspoons

Method: Pressure-cook the wheat grains with two cups of water and a pinch of salt until soft, for 20-25 minutes (5-6 whistles). When ready, turn the heat off and strain the water. Mix in the spices and oil. Squeeze the lemon and voila, your ghooghri is ready to eat! Quick and easy!

Sweet
Ingredients:
Wheat grains, 1 cup
Powdered jaggery, 1 tablespoon
Ghee, 2 teaspoons

Method: Pressure-cook the wheat grains with two cups of water and a pinch of salt until soft, for 20-25 minutes (5-6 whistles). When ready, turn the heat off and strain the water. Add the powdered jaggery and ghee into the boiled grains and it’s ready to eat!


Vikramaditya Sharma, Gurgaon, NCR

Digital Strategist, Creative Director, Founder of the research and digital design studio, Now Form

What has your relationship with food been like, particularly with snacking?
I place a lot of importance on eating clean food. I’ve learnt first-hand that nutrition can shape mental health. For me, even cooking is an act of self-care and mindfulness: making food can be therapeutic. I’m also interested in the role of food across various cultures. Food habits are telling about the way people communicate, and their values. Moreover, food is also a record-keeping of cultural history.

My snacking habits are an extension of my eating habits; I enjoy snacking mindfully to explore cultures and engage with people. I want to snack on foods that remind me of places and memories. I’d be dishonest if I don’t mention that there are also days when an uncultured bag of chips is my best friend.

How does food interact with your work-from-home schedule?
There hasn’t been a large change in my eating habits while working from home. The only notable difference is how purposeful mealtimes have become for me. At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt like I was working endlessly. Now, on most days, meals and cooking have become sacrosanct markers that end my day. Another positive outcome of working from home has to be an unsolicited bowl of morning almonds (with my black coffee) and afternoon fruit.

Which are your most satisfying snacks?
My mood usually drives my snacking habits, so my most satisfying snacks are the ones that resolve my emotions. I’m especially fond of tapas: gambas-al-ajillo is my favourite! A while ago, I ate street-side palak and hing (asafoetida) pakoras that I will now think of every time it rains.

Are you a lone snacker or do snacks bring togetherness?
I mostly snack with people. I enjoy making cocktails, and over the lockdown, I had the abundance of time to explore mixology. Olives, burrata, charcuterie platters and fresh bread became staples for drink nights. I also have a friend who sun-dries his home-garden ingredients to make salts and dips. I was fortunate to taste-test his curry leaf salt, chilli garlic salt, and an incredible rosemary and olive oil dip.

How have your snacking habits changed during the pandemic?
Early on, I would meet only one friend from outside my immediate family. It became routine for her to come over to my studio every Sunday for pottery and kachoris. There was extreme paranoia at the time, so we avoided outside food; our Sunday meetings were the only exception and my guiltiest indulgences of the week.

Do you feel mentally satiated or physically happy after snacking?
I’ve learnt that snacks such as almonds, bananas and tomatoes can improve mental health. I’m much happier on days that I eat purposefully. Sharing food with friends also brings me a lot of joy. Eating with people and eating clean makes me both mentally satiated and physically happy.

What do you find yourself snacking on most often? Why?
I’ve been snacking on many bar/tapas/izakaya foods because I enjoy cocktail culture. I’ve also been making a tonne of fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and chips. I find India lacking in good cocktails; most bars and restaurants serve syrupy drinks that are missing complexity and creativity. It is a shame because India is abundant with ingredients ripe for cocktail experimentation. I’ve been dreaming of opening a small speakeasy-style bar that heroes Indian produce.

Do your snacking choices make you feel connected in any way to a larger community?
I lived in Tokyo for a few months and discovered that beer halls and izakayas are central to business networking. The experience there taught me the value of breaking bread with diverse people; eating can be an equaliser.

Do your snacks come out of a packet or do you prefer to put them together yourself? Do you plan your snacks for the day or just grab what’s available?
I don’t snack a lot if I’m by myself. However, if I’m alone, I will snack on whatever is convenient by rummaging through my fridge. Thankfully, we don’t keep packet/junk food at home, so I usually end up piecing something together. It’s usually a slice of bread with strawberry Bonne Maman (jam). If I’m fortunate, I eat brie and fig jam.

However, snacking in my studio is different because my studio is a space for indulgence. My team’s been working from home, but I still visit a few times a week with two friends (one of them is also my colleague) from my building. We eat an unreasonable amount of chips. Lay’s West Indies’ Hot ‘n’ Sweet Chili, is our staple.

Recipe: Kerala Masala Prawns

Ingredients:
Prawns, 1/2 Kg;
Onions (chopped), 2
Curry leaves, 1 sprig (10-12)
Salt, to taste
Ginger (for ginger-garlic paste), 1 1/2 tablespoons
Garlic (for ginger-garlic paste), 1 1/2 tablespoons
Turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon
Pepper, 1/2 teaspoon
Chilli powder, 1 tablespoon
Coriander powder, 1 teaspoon
Garam masala, 1 teaspoon
Tomato (large, chopped), 1
Coconut oil, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon + 2 teaspoons
Kokum, 2

Method: Cook/sauté everything in coconut oil. Thinly slice the onion and cook with 1 tablespoon oil, curry leaves and salt. Sauté the onions till brown. Grind the ginger and garlic into a fine paste and add to the onions. Add 1 teaspoon oil and sauté. Add turmeric, chilli powder, pepper, coriander powder and garam masala and 2 teaspoons oil. Sauté till there’s a nice aroma. Slice tomatoes and add to the mix. Cover and cook till tomatoes are cooked. Add kokum. Add prawns. Cover and cook till the prawns are done. Remove the kokum when the prawns are ready.


Anand Puri, Kolkata

A third-generation restaurateur currently helming the legendary Trincas Restaurant 

What has your relationship with food been like and particularly with snacking?
Food plays a huge part in my day, as it does for most people. Happy eaters look forward to every next meal. I’m much the same. Snacks fill in the gaps between regular meals and are crucial to tide you over, but they also create a balance between eating healthy and simply letting go. Both are important. “Healthy” often gets a bad rap for being boring and not indulgent. But for me, it’s the more important end of the spectrum.

How does food interact with your work-from-home schedule?
Working from home allows you more freedom to snack. You tend to munch more because food is easily available from the fridge or from the snack cupboard.

Which are your most satisfying snacks?
The most satisfying snacks are the ones that target a craving but also have a mental feel-good effect. If I want something spicy, I’d rather eat a chaat made of dahi and raw (cucumber, mung) or boiled ingredients (potatoes, mung) than something fried (bhujia). If I prefer something sweet, a fruit salad works well. Dry fruits and nuts are also great or a smoothie bowl with dates, raisins, oats, yoghurt.

How have your snacking habits changed during the pandemic?
The pandemic forced itself and its anxieties upon everyone. I noticed that not just me, but even the people around me started craving simple comforts. Chocolate cake, pakoras and chips were suddenly acceptable as a way of making up for the trauma of what was happening outside. Snacking became psychological. I allowed myself the indulgences while balancing them with healthy options.

Do you feel mentally satiated or physically happy after snacking?
Yes both! That’s what snacking is supposed to do. That’s why it’s so important to find snacks that don’t guilt trip you later.

Do your snacking choices make you feel connected in any way to a larger community? Do some snacks connect you to your childhood?
No. People evolve and their ideas of things evolve. My snacking habits are a reflection of who I am now.

Recipe: Sweet-tooth Satisfier

Ingredients:
Yoghurt
Oats
Banana (chopped)
Avocado (sliced)
Seed mix
Pomegranate (seeds)
Dates (chopped)
Raisins
Almonds (whole)

Method: Layer all ingredients over the yoghurt in a bowl. Enjoy!

Related posts from Verve:


Leave a Reply