Monday, May 31, 2010

Autonson Soup - II

[Continued from Part I]

The area where I live (officially named Abhinaba Bidanasi, though everyone calls it CDA) is dull even by Cuttack standards. Once, on a rare occasion when I had nothing to do, I explored the western fringes of the colony towards the outskirts of the city. It turned out that the entire stretch, spanning over at least three square kilometres, did not have a single market! Though I am fortunate enough to have two market complexes within walking distance, my foodie choices are predictably constrained. And even the shops that do exist in the area do not believe in giving customers much choice. The local roll guy, though competent enough, has so far declined to expand his repertoire beyond four items.

So, while returning home one evening, I was pleasantly surprised to see a new roll joint had come up not far from the old one. It was an ambitious venture - a largeish shack made of bamboo and leaf-matting (and set up on illegally occupied land, but that's beside the point). It even had seating space for about eight people, a rarity among roll joints. And a menu too! Nine roll joints out of ten don't bother with such sophistication (given their somewhat limited bill of fare, menus do come across as superfluous). The remainder simply tack on a notice on the wall. This one was different. The moment I entered the shack, the number-two picked out a printout from a stack and shoved it into my hands. I understood why it was necessary; the outfit boasted no less than three items over and above the usual, with yet another one added with pen later.

Sadly, the promoters' ambition and enthusiasm somewhat exceeded their ability to spell. Before I could order, I had to sit and decipher the text. Choumini (chowmein) and tootcon (sweet corn) soup were easy. But autoson soup had me baffled, completely - I had no clue at all what it could be. I asked the boss what it meant. He couldn't say anything much, so contented himself with repeating the name a couple of times. However, when rendered in his characteristic Oriya lilt (AWWT-onsOWn) it seemed to ring a bell somewhere. The third time he said it I caught on, finally. And then I had to take a second or two to wince, recover my breath, and stop clutching my temples. I felt so sorry for the lot that I asked if I could proofread the menu, which offer they accepted with alacrity. Only after I finished this little task was I able to turn my attention to the food.

The weather was too hot for soup (which begs the question, what were they doing in the bill of fare in the first place?). The spellings didn't inspire much confidence either. I decided to play it safe and stick to chiken [sic] rolls. The price had been scribbled over with a pen, so I asked (specifically) how much the double-egg version cost. Number-two said eighteen apiece. I was impressed enough to order two - this shop undercut the old one by two Rupees, pretty decent considering their slender operating margins. Chef du jour then sets about beating the eggs and heating the rotis, and all this while number-two maintains a running commentary on how novel the rolls are, how the special masala blend adds a mysterious something to them, something the chef learned in Calcutta so you won't get it anywhere else, not in this city for sure.

By the time the rolls arrived, I was curious but not exactly slavering with anticipation - in the past I've had several encounters with bombastic purveyors of street- and other food. Predictably enough, the rolls tasted exactly the same as what you get at any other stall or pushcart. Still, not bad for eighteen bucks, I thought. Actually no, number-two demanded twenty-two.

I was really taken aback. I pointed out he had said eighteen earlier. Which launched him into another rigmarole about how he had meant single-egg when he said eighteen, and double egg sold for twenty-two. I reminded him I had specifically asked him about double egg and he had said eighteen. He fell back on the time-tested tactic of ignoring my question and reiterating the price list as if it had been sent down from heaven with the other ten commandments. I certainly was not going to stand around there arguing with that moron for a few measly Rupees. But nor was I exactly overflowing with goodwill for that lot either. In fact, I was irritated enough to do something I generally refrain from indulging in. I dug out a hundred and then, while number two was counting out the change, quietly abstracted the proofed copy of the menu and slid it into my pocket. Chef caught on, and said "That's the corrected version!" I looked him straight in the eye, and said "I know." Poor fellow didn't know what to say, so I quietly walked off.

And if you haven't guessed by now, it's hot-and-sour soup.

14 comments:

Krishna Udayasankar said...

I take it, Sir; this is one establishment you won't be frequenting in an hurry. Too bad - would've loved to see what revisions came forth onto the menu, after this encounter...

That, and if the autoson soup really was as 'aut' and 'son', as promised!

Krishna Udayasankar said...

Afterthought on looking at the pics provided - I take it that 'Infornt of' is directional designation, and has nothing to do with family and descent?

Abhik Majumdar said...

@ Krishna

> this is one establishment you won't be frequenting in an hurry

What? Miss the culinary experience of a lifetime? Actually yes I would :D. And revision? In the land of the stagnant menus? You're kiddin'me!

> if the autoson soup really was as 'aut' and 'son'

I can't get rid of mental image of the cook standing up and saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your kind autonson please?"

> 'Infornt of' is directional designation, and has nothing to do with family and descent?

Yes, inforntile spelling notwithstanding.

Ritika said...

aut stuff!
speaking of menus: i encountered recently at an Indian restaurant in Berkeley a description of Bagaara Bhaat = rice with species.

ordered, burped, and felt like i could generate ever more species.

Abhik Majumdar said...

Oh my god, spices!!

ani said...

Hahaha.... LOVE it!!! But you do realise that you will be putting other customers through the same trauma reading the menu, since you took away the proof-read copy?

But I'm a fan - gonna read your foodie adventures more regularly from now on!

Abhik Majumdar said...

@ Anita: You're right! Didn't occur to me. But hey, I'm spreading the fun around, no? And thanks for all the nice things you said.

navneet said...

you can find good food in every corner of earth....but unfortunately the earth is round....so keep trying!!:D
I guess due to such adventurous experiences you are motivated to prepare your innovative food items like Bhutta Sandwich , etc which are tasty as well as nutritious too........

Prabal said...

My gastronomical recollections from a short stint at Bhubaneshwar are equally pathetic. This is puzzling because Oriya cook was the way to go in Bengali households in the previous century (my mother once commented on the way to Puri that her paternal house had cooks from practically every station for a stretch).

Spandan said...

interesting and funny article. I could not guess what an qutonson soup could be until I reached the end. :D

Orissa has an excellent culinary tradition, and that can be sampled in small eateries (besides roll shops :D ) in small cities and along the roads. It's just like Kolkata 20 years back, bengali food was nowhere to be had, except "pice hotels" near college street etc.

I remember tasting great oriya cooking in those places. It is strikingly similar to bengali cooking of midnapore, purulia and surroundings, may be with a little less finesse. :P. However, as you proceed to more western and south-western parts, the influence of andhra cooking begins to show up.

Some of the cookings what I still can remember are obviously dalma (pachmisheli tarkari with seddho daal thrown in), vegetable rasaa (jhol), machher ambol (sour fish curry, not like our west coast fish dish though), sambalpuri mutton etc etc. Among the desserts, the stand out was poDa pitha (baked cake made of rice flour and probably some daal), chhena poDa, and obviously khaja. :D Would like to see a post on "real" oriya food in future.....

At the Shed of Trishna's Corner- Trishna's Shades said...

kept wondering like spandan....and in fact since part I the thrust lied more on the equations with auto-walas.....which made me think whether autoson had any linkage with autos...... ofcourse never thought hot and sour till I repeated the word a couple of times....

Anutosh said...

क्या बात है सर वाह वाह,
"is dull by even by cuttack standards "
वह क्या लाइन है ,मुझे एक शेर याद आ गया इस पे,
ना खंजर पे लहू के निशान ना दामन पे कोई दाग
यार तुम कत्ल करते हो या करामात

madhulikaliddle.com said...

I would never have guessed!

Abhik Majumdar said...

@madhulika:

:D :D :D