Jun 1, 2011

Of eggs, onions, strawberries and hot dogs

She heard his audible sigh as he passed the dining room. She was busy taking pictures of juicy, fresh strawberries she had picked up that morning at the farmer's market. "How does he not get it still?" she wondered. She had been blogging for over a year now and as she had gotten more involved with her blog, she had started experimenting more with different cuisines, with photography techniques and with social media. She spent a pretty good amount of time on twitter and facebook and she had a respectable following.

How could she not get addicted to this wonderful medium? Living in a foreign land, this was her way to connect with people from all over the world. She had made friends, shared her frustrations and joys with them and a lot of times learned from them.

Just the other day, Supriya had taught her how to use manual mode on her point and shoot camera. She hadn't fully understood the technicalities of aperture and zoom, but she was excited and eager to experiment. The strawberries were the perfect subject.

She knew she sometimes got carried away and neglected to attend to everything else. Hence his deep sigh of resignation.  She realized she had been at it for almost an hour. It was past breakfast time and he was probably hungry. Come to think of it, she was hungry too.

She decided to give the strawberries a rest and went in the kitchen. She passed up the green leafy kale and the bright red radishes. There was some zucchini and squash she wanted to grill, but it will have to wait till the evening. She came across half an onion wrapped in cellophane, left over from the day before. She didn’t like half cut vegetables sitting in the fridge, especially onions and tomatoes. She put it out on the counter and decided to use it.

“You want to eat some poha?” she asked him, raising her voice a little to be heard over the din of TV.

“We can have poha, if you want to eat breakfast at noon,” he said from the sofa.

“I won’t take two hours to make it,” realizing even as she said it that it would take almost an hour for her to be done. She preferred her poha Indori style, with all the fixings. He was right, it would take a long time.

Just then, she saw the egg carton on the door of the fridge. There were only four eggs left. She had spotted some fresh eggs at the FM today but she wasn’t sure how many she had left in the fridge. She hadn’t called back and asked him to check. She knew he would have laughed at her for not taking a grocery list, again.

I will pick some up tomorrow from the supermarket on my way back from yoga,” she said to herself.

Meanwhile, the eggs would make a nice omelet and she can call it a Saturday morning brunch. He preferred his eggs over easy but she couldn’t stand the soft, wiggly, yolks. She had grown up on the omelets her dad made, with onions, bell peppers, green chilis and cilantro. Her mom had insisted he put a pinch of turmeric, cumin seeds and a little bit of grated ginger to the eggs. It added a whole new dimension to the eggs, a taste she could never find in the omelets served in American breakfast restaurants. Her mother-in-law found the omelets so bland, she would douse them with tobasco sauce and even then, she thought the pale yellow omelet hadn’t been fully cooked.

“It looks raw to me son,” she would tell him every time he took them out to breakfast. She had to agree with her MIL. She too liked the overcooked desi omelets, with brown specks, preferably all over and on both sides.

She cracked three eggs in the bowl and let them sit on the counter while she started chopping the onion. Next, she finely minced a green chili and soaked some cilantro in a bowl of water. A fresh loaf of artisan bread from the downtown German bakery sat on the counter. She took two thick slices out on a plate and heated up her trusty cast iron skillet. The small omelet pan went on the other burner.

She gave a quick whisk to the eggs, then splashed some milk and whisked it some more. The skillet had started smoking by then. She turned the heat down, put the two slices on the skillet and drizzled some olive oil on them. She turned her attention to the eggs, adding the onions and the minced green chilies. She didn’t have any green bell peppers so she added more than the usual share of cilantro, as if it would compensate for the crunch of the green peppers.

As she whisked the eggs with the onions, she noticed the omelet pan was starting to heat up. Turning the heat down, she quickly added a pinch of turmeric, some cumin seeds and grated ginger to the eggs. She added a drizzle of oil on the pan and dumped the eggs on the skillet. As the eggs cooked, she gently pulled back the sides to let the uncooked eggs run to the edge of the pan. It took about five to seven minutes on medium heat for one side of the omelet to cook. Enough time to set the plate.

By now, the bread was toasty. She plated the bread on one side, reached for some leftover quinoa and wild rice salad sitting in the fridge and spooned some on one side. She found some diced papaya in a container at the back of the fridge. She arranged some of that on the other side of the bread slice.

By then it was time to flip the omelet. She flipped it gently with a spatula, appreciating the brown flecks on the cooked side. “Brunch is almost ready,” she called out to him.

The breakfast table was littered with tea cups and toast and empty packets of glucose biscuit from the morning tea. She cleaned up the mess and went back to attend to the omelet. It looked done, but she was never convinced till she folded the omelet in half and no egg oozed out. It didn’t, so she turned off the heat, used the spatula to cut the omelet in half and put on their plates.

A bottle of ketchup, two glasses of water and brunch was set. "I should have cut the strawberries too. Oh well, we can have them for dinner or after I am done photographing them," she shrugged.

As he sat down on the table to eat she caught him smiling to himself.
“What?” she asked.
“I guess you heard my sigh after all,” he said with a mouthful of omelet.


A few notes about desi omelets:

Served in train station canteens, hostel and college mess rooms as well as cooked for breakfast in homes throughout India, desi omelets have many variations and accompaniments. They are made with a combination of all or some of these ingredients: onions, mushrooms, green bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, cumin seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, spinach. They are eaten plain, with rotis, paranthas, bread and even with khichdi or pulao.

In my hometown of Indore, the popular hot dog stalls serve omelets sandwiched between a toasted sliced wheat bun, with a thick ring of onion and a generous smear of ketchup. It is called an egg banjo for reasons unknown. The musical instrument has nothing to do with this Indian eat. One of the more famous places to eat this gastronomic delight is Johnny’s Hot Dog, which may or may not have a man named Johnny cracking eggs or serving the customers. Check out this video of how a typical Egg Banjo is made at Johnny’s.

This part fiction, part non-fiction post, goes to Of Chalks and Chopsticks, hosted by Sra and conceived by Aqua.

The inspiration for the omelet was a twitter conversation between Manisha of Indian Food Rocks and Soma of eCurry. We all agreed to do a desi omelet post by the end of last month and Aqua joined the pact. Here are the links to Manisha’s and Soma’s posts. Aqua is busy moving to another country so I suspect we will just have to wait for her to settle down.

Manisha's omelet with a mesmerizing narrative and beautiful photos of her trip to Fatehpur Sikri

Sandeepa's omelet with a hilarious story on blogging obsession. She gets a special mention not only because her story for OC&C featured an omelet but also for contributing to NPR on my behest. If you listen to NPR and have contributed, do so today and let me know. I will add a link to your blog for doing it.

Soma's desi omelet with her memories of a perfect brunch with orange juice, coffee and strawberries.

If you would like to be part of interesting food discussions or my mundane food observations and anecdotes, join me on the Desisoccermom page or follow me on twitter.


  1. Thanks Divya. That was fast. But why no name?

  2. I love omelet and can't stand the wiggly insides in them too. But surprisingly love wiggly yolks in a poached or fried egg. Am dying to use that ginger in an omelet now ... been reading about it in this series a lot.
    A lovely write ... and now am off to make an omelet for b'fast. :-)

  3. What a beautiful narrative, Jaya. I love how you weave together a story based on a normal happening at home. Now that I know you both and your natures (to an extent) I can so relate to the characters. T the tolerant one and you the endearing one.
    Thanks for the mention too, Jaya.

  4. Nice story, well written and the yearning for home tastes is well captured. I really need to start making omelettes again - I rarely make them these days. The cumin is new to me so I'll try that! I'm not very fond of veggies in my omelette, mine are all about spice! :-D

  5. You're in great form as usual :) I miss the desi omlet a lot...and don't even get me started on the banjo...nothing beats Johnny!!!

  6. Sharmilla, thanks. The ginger does add a kick to the omelet. If you try it, let me know your thoughts.

    Supriya, thanks for the heartfelt comment. You are sweet.

    Sra, thank you for that nod. It always means a lot coming from you. I don't care much for a whole bunch of veggies either but T as well as my dad like them.

    Notyet100, thanks.

    Aditya, thank you. I miss Johnny's too, not to mention Chappan and Sarrafa!

  7. Just like Supriya said, I love how you weave the story around your home. I totally agree with your MIL, I douse my scrambled eggs with tabasco when eating out. IHOP omelettes I like though but desi ones are the best.

    And yes the dialogues in my story were influenced by localparty, I could feel that as I wrote the lines :)

  8. Jaya ... I did try it with ginger today. I had chopped the ginger very very fine ... but still ... one biteful and I went 'wow!'. I may not add cumin ever coz am not too fond of it ... but ginger ... will never make an omelet without it henceforth I guess. Thanks a load! Loved it. :-)

  9. Almost every canteen wala or the mess wala has his own omelet recipe, I guess. :-). Well written post Jaya.

    Time for a desi omelet for tmrw morning breakfast.


  10. Thanks Sandeepa. I liked your take on Localparty. It s hilarious.

    Sharmilla, that was quick! I am glad you liked the ginger in your omelet. I usually grate it but I think chopping it fine sounds good too.

    Srilatha, you are so right. Let me know how you make your omelet or better yet, do a post and I will link it here.

  11. What a beautiful post..... makes some interesting reading and a tasty omelette recipe:)

  12. She also took terrific pictures of the omelet being cooked :)

    Beautiful post!!!

  13. Malli, thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Sangeeta: she left a very nice comment on her friend's blog.

  14. Enjoyed reading your omelet saga! Would love to have you over at our space to check out our food stories.

  15. I was with you all the way and now I have to make it your way. Ginger and jeera almost make it like andyachi bhaji in omelet form :-D

    I want to eat that banjo! I watched the video *so* many times!

  16. With a name like Tadka Pasta, I will have to drop by. :)

    Manisha, isn't it amazing how the Indian street vendors whip up mouth watering goodness without any fancy equipment or even a very comfortable place to cook in? I am always amazed at their ingenuity. Glad you liked the video.

  17. 'She knew she sometimes got carried away and neglected to attend to everything else'....that just sounds so unconfortably familiar :)

    Love the way you have woven your story around your life and the way you included Supriya in the narrative was absolutely seamless!

  18. You described those omelets really well, a very good description that can definitely make your readers' mouths water with delight. Egg recipes the Indian way sure is interesting, a lot of flavors that can burst inside the mouth in a good way.


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