Epicurean adventures of the gourmet king

Rocky Singh, of the food travel show ‘Highway On My Plate’, which he co-hosts with Mayur Sharma, talks about his long culinary journey, his idea of a good food, his favourite eating places and dishes, and of course his travel and eating-related tips.

Aheady combination of sensualist and gourmand adventurism, Rocky Singh is a veritable bundle of good cheer and he believes in living life immensely well. Cohosting the NDTV Good Times food travel show, “Highway On My Plate”, with his partner, Mayur Sharma, the foodie anchor is already burning the midnight oil with his third book on the greatest passion of all Indians: Food. The show, meanwhile, has completed a record 230 episodes shot during travels of over 200,000 km on the highways of India.

Chatting with The Daily Guardian on his favourite topic — food and street side sustenance — Rocky answers some questions for our readers.

Q. How did you discover new places where you could go eat? Did this depend on long queues and crowds, as in how popular are they and the food turnover?

A. Initially we would plan a route, let’s say Delhi to Manali and break it up into 200 km of driving per day. On that stretch we would get all the journalists writing about food to send us a list of the best eating joints that have been written about for decades. And this was mainly street and regional food, not 5-stars as those were unaffordable to the common man. As time went on, we started gathering data from bloggers and locals. Like enroute to Chandigarh, Gulshan Dhaba in Murthal is the best for breakfast with their freshly cooked paranthas and garam garam chai. The whole mission was about the journey of bringing the glory of Indian food to our viewers.

Q. In the dining out experience, would you consider desi ghee as a secret ingredient to enhance the taste of food?

A. Desi ghee has been a very active Indian ingredient for centuries, highly healthy and is used to intensify the flavour of the food, provided you know how to use it correctly. Making a dosa with ghee can completely alter the taste, or even dousing idlis with gunpowder and ghee, as opposed to using regular cooking oil. Add a dollop of smoking hot ghee with garam masala tadka to the cooked mutton curry and trust me, this will make your mutton finger-licking good. Desi ghee is a very powerful ingredient and is a superfood.

Q. Have you ever had any encounter with a world famous personality?

A. We keep meeting people from different walks of life. We were shooting at Raan of Kutch for the Raan Utsav, a carnival of music and dance. It was a full-moon night and with a full-lunar eclipse to follow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the Chief Minister of Gujarat, had come to inaugurate the festival. He recognised us as he had watched the show and it was a pleasure interacting with him. We have had several actors on our show. Few of the most memorable ones are Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Arshad Warsi. Ajay has a very pleasant personality. We have shot with him, eaten with him, shared many jokes; he has a fabulous sense of humour and is very jocular. This was just before his film Golmaal got released.

Q. What got you and Mayur to conceptualise “Highway On My Plate” and its title?

A. The show was started by NDTV Good Times. They were looking for actors to anchor it. The director, Abhinandan Sekhri, called us and as we were very familiar with most of the food pit stops in India’s trucking routes, we got the deal of anchoring a food and travel show that went on to become the country’s most popular cult show on food. The title was apt and described the show very well. We have had at least seven shows, on food and travel, across India now, on four different channels. One particular show is on the rarest foods, smelliest foods, most expensive foods, spiciest foods.

Q. Have you been road tripping to any secret hidden away spots?

 A. On our show, we target spots that not many people might know about. My list of secret spots:

1. Khayam Chowk, Srinagar: Best Kebabs, Boti and Seekh

2. Das Surti Khaman Wala, Ahmedabad: Best Khaman Dokhla and Farsaan

3. Mylai Karpagambal Mess, Chennai: Traditional Tamil foods like pongal, podi dosa and snacks.

4. Spicy Venue Hyderabad: MLA PotlAM Biryani that is eaten with Uluvacharu and pickles. Gongura Mamsam-mutton, Royala Iguru-prawns, Chapala Pulusu-fish curry.

5. Niglat, Near Bhimtal: Best filo pastry and incredible Western food.

Q. Which are your favourite eating-places and your favourite dishes?

A. My choicest of food in the whole of India is Tundey Kabab at the world famous Tundey Kababi at Chowk, in Lucknow The kababs are juicy and made traditional style. I also love Kerala cuisine, and my favourite eating joint is in Hotel Grand, in Kochi, Karimeen Pollichathu, and my chosen dish is Pearl Spot fish with many spices wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf. Just outside Bhubaneswar, Odisha, is a place called Chilika Dhaba and the best thing to eat there is the masala prawn; for Rs 70, you can get 10 large prawns, fresh out of Chilika lake right next door.

Q. Your five travel and eatingrelated tips for your fans.

A. 1. Carry your own drinking water, avoid drinking water anywhere outside.

2. Never make your travel about the destination only, as the journey itself is important. Stop on the way to take in sights of historic monuments, sunsets, landscapes. These all go down as memories to treasure.

3. When you are in a particular region, you must sample the fare of that place. Eating pizzas in let’s say Rajasthan is blasphemy. The authenticity of regional fare is supreme.

 4. If you are looking to eat well, then ask around from your local cabbie, concierge, travel desk, and of course the locals. You cannot really go wrong. These guys always know which are the best eateries to go to. There are also bloggers covering cities and towns and a quick search will yield great results.

5. Our channel rockyandmayur on YouTube will give you all the information on nine cities in India for the best restaurants, diners and shacks you could visit. Rest of the food-related data you can get in our books, which highlight every restaurant we have eaten at, like a food wiki giving the phone numbers, directions, what you should eat, etc.

Q. Do you enjoy cooking?

A. In the mid-1990s, I opened my own restaurant called Café Spice, specialising in Punjabi and Mughlai food. This was in Dilshad Garden, East Delhi. I had a passion for great cooking and I ran the restaurant for seven months, indulging in my ongoing interest. I enjoy cooking street-style Thai food as I trained in Thailand with street vendors, mastering the art of making great Thai food from scratch, using fresh ingredients.