Indian food in comedy sauce
They say India's culture changes every 12 kilometres.
If that baffles you, allow me to shatter your faith in radical ways (you'll know why I said that).
Because India's food changes every 12 metres.
Trust me, I know!
A comedy expedition covering 27 cities on the road for 31 days meant I would be doing a lot of comedy.
But my excitement wasn't just limited to the stage.
It went beyond the stage to the plates because this was my chance to feast on every local cuisine there is.
And boy there are so many.
First stop, Bengaluru. Nothing great here.
Mostly because I look at Bengaluru as Hyderabad's well-planned elder cousin who has traffic issues.
Also, because the IT industries have gotten us so close, we've started looking the same.
From the language to food, everything in Karnataka is 'almost Telangana'.
The only Kannada food that stood out was the 'Mysore Masala Dosa', or as they call it in Mysore, the masala dosa.
There is and will not be a better dosa than that. Loyalties sealed for life.
Amma-land aka Tamil Nadu had three cities to convince us that their filter 'kaapi' was not just a created myth, but actually the legend they believe it to be.
I was sold on the first sip! From the steel glasses, they served the coffee into the fact that you have to mix the sugar yourself, everything about it was just right.
So much so, that I am a filter coffee activist now and plan to march on all these coffee shops serving their pretentious cappuccinos (2 c's and 2 p's? Really? Do we need that to spell a type of coffee?)
On to Kerala, where I had (spoiler alert) the best thali of the country.
No thali has come even close to the Kerala thali that welcomed us in Fort Kochi.
A generous helping of puffed rice with curd and coconut-based curries knocked all the 'how do Mallus put hair oil in food' jokes out of my head.
Honestly, it took me 20 minutes to write the above lines because I was lost thinking about my lunch that afternoon.
Also, did you know they serve warm spiced water with every meal? No? Well, you're welcome!
The road north from Kerala to Pune took us through Goa – a place that has always wowed me with its fish curry and rice (and the ridiculous choice of floral shirts worn by locals).
For those about to scream Xacuti, yes, that plate went back clean too.
Pune and Mumbai showcased how they can make anything and find a way to stuff it inside pavs.
No really, Maharashtra is obsessed with pav.
So much so, that there's a dish called samosa pav, which is exactly what it sounds like.
It's a full samosa, stuffed inside a pav.
And people (including me) are nuts for it.
Up next was the state of the sweet-dal eaters.
And (spoiler alert, again) no state's cuisine has felt as alien as Gujarat's.
As a person who has eaten parathas and idlis for breakfast, I thought… I knew everything about Indian food.
That is until I asked the waiter what's for breakfast and he said - hold on to your hats - 'jalebi.'
To a Hyderabadi ear that's a scandal.
How are people eating dinner desserts for breakfast?
Three days of stuffing myself up with Gujarati food has convinced me that if I ever want to up my cholesterol levels in the easiest and tastiest possible way, I'll visit Gujarat. Dhoklas softer than my bed, dal sweeter than most halwas and a snacks menu so long that it has become the main course, Gujarat has it all.
Screw tigers, that's what Amitabh Bachchan should be saying in his Gujarat tourism ads too.
After the vegetarian retreat in India's only dry State (where I actually saw people smuggling alcohol), I learnt that there is no mutton, more tender, more sumptuous than the 'laal maas' served in Jaipur followed by 'Paan' shots (I cannot be making this up).
But it was Delhi that taught me the most important lesson of all.
'DO NOT' trust anything 'Punjabi' that we eat in Hyderabad.
From the soft and creamy (and zero-spice) butter chicken to the roadside rajma chawal, from Virat Kohli's favourite chole bhature to the street chaat and momos, no food has felt so wrong and right at the same time.
In fact, I'd take this opportunity to burst your bubble and let you know that every momo you've ever eaten in Hyderabad was a scam, because the real deal is being sold all over Connaught Place.
Tunday Kebabs in Lucknow had a wall full of photos.
These were the photos of celebrities, who had visited the place for the 11-rupee kebabs.
One photo was of Kapil Dev and he was smiling harder than the time he had won the world cup in 1983 because that's how good those kebabs actually are.
It's hard not to use the cliché 'melt in your mouth'.
In fact, I'll go one ahead and call it 'melt in your hand's kebabs'.
Varanasi surprised us with its chaat and snacks and made me realise what a sorry excuse for chaat we have been eating in Hyderabad.
To top it off, there was the authentic Banarasi 'thandai' and I'll leave it at that because I might read this too.
Up next was Didi's land.
This is where I found myself questioning my core fundamental beliefs.
All my life, I had believed that a potato has no place, (read in Arnab Goswami's voice) absolutely no place in biryani.
And I was proved spectacularly wrong.
Not only does it have a place in biryani, but it also makes it better.
In fact, I will go on record and make the most controversial statement to Hyderabadi ears – Kolkata biryani is as good as Hyderabad's biryani, if not better.
No, really. I've barricaded my house for the backlash.
The road down from Kolkata mostly served fish everywhere.
It seems like everyone from Kolkata to Vizag is just taking fish out of the sea, marinating it in all sorts of things and then serving them on a plate.
I had orange fish in achari curry, I had yellow fish in mustard curry and down in Vizag, I had a redfish in chilli curry.
Pro tip: Never ask anyone in Vizag to make it 'spicy' unless you want to be the next dragon on 'Game of Thrones'.
My stomach had been through this entire rigmarole just because my taste buds wanted it.
But finally, 260 kilometres away from Hyderabad, the two finally could agree on something that was good for both of them - the ghee karam idli of Vijayawada.
In retrospect, the idli just a distant, vegetarian, healthy version of the Tunday kebabs because it melts in your fingers too!
One show and six hours later, I was in Hyderabad.
And if you've lived in Hyderabad long enough, you might have heard that there's nothing better than a cup of Irani chai is to 'digest' any meal.
And if these 30 days on the road were one long meal, I needed my chai.
And, I'd like to apologise to Chennai, because all it took was a sip of my Irani chai to knock the filter coffee out of me.
Which goes to prove, no matter how far you go or what you eat, dil hai Hyderabadi and still wants Osmania biscuit with chai!