It’s the People Who Make the Memories Special!
Rocky (Singh) and Mayur (Sharma) anchor the award winning, cult food and travel show ‘Highway On My Plate’ on NDTV Goodtimes. Their bestselling book ‘Highway On My Plate – The Indian Guide to Roadside Eating’, based on their show, recently won a ‘Best in the World’ Award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Paris.
What do you think makes HOMP the show so popular? What’s the best compliment you have received for your show?
Well obviously it’s our good looks and our lean physiques Seriously, though, from what we have gathered as feedback from fans all over, it’s a few things. The amazing range of food, vistas and people that make our amazing country unique are all showcased through our show. Our passion for food and for all things Indian along with the sheer joy we bring to everything we do resonates with everyone who watches and loves our show. The fact that we share great chemistry that can only come from decades of friendship also evokes a feeling of ‘apnapan’. The best compliments we receive are when we hear from people how they love to sit down as a family to enjoy the show and how hungry it makes them.
What’s the sort of research that goes into each show? How do you decide on which place to visit and more importantly, once you get there, where to eat?
Once we decide on a route, the production house research team swings into action and researches the eateries with the best food in the area. We also draw on personal experiences from earlier journeys and conversations with friends and fellow foodies in the area. Last and definitely not the least, once we get there we tap into the buzz on the street and stop to eat at a place that is crowded with happy eaters.
What fascinates you about the eateries off highways? Is there something about them that people in the cities (you think they) miss?
The food is prepared and served hot and fresh, the surroundings are always interesting – be it by the highway or on the street – and most importantly, you will always find fellow eaters willing to share a story, a song or an eating tip. It’s always very community-oriented and it’s fun to join complete strangers in teasing the cook or the restaurant owner about his food, his portions or his chai. Ever tried that in a fine dining destination?
How do you think roadside food in India compares with what you’ve seen in other parts of the world? Any particular favourites from overseas?
INDIA! There really is no comparison. If you weigh the food of India on one side against the combined cuisines of the rest of the world, Indian food still wins hands down in every category… taste, richness, diversity, and sheer range of ingredients. Nothing even comes close!
Tales over food – what are some of the fascinating things about people’s lives (those who run the place and those who come to eat there) that you have heard in the many, many eateries that you have visited?
There are always stories associated with food and food lovers. There are owners like jovial Tony Paaji of Tony Da Dhaba who peppers his conversations with invective, and rears emus to put them on the menu. He then serves emu meat brought in from another farm as he cannot bear to kill the birds he keeps. The jovial Mr. Rhumba of the Hot Stimulating Cafe on Hooker Road (no, we’re not kidding about the names!) who is a huge fan of Bob Marley with a wall full of his photos, sings reggae songs as he gives you lessons in Momo preparation. There are poor owners of very small and very basic eateries who can ill afford to be generous and yet would not take penny for what we ate; there was also an old man who chuckled with glee as he told us that he pays more tax than the Chief Minister of his state. Every eatery has a story and at many of these your fellow diners will spin tales that can make you laugh, cry, sing or just feel very happy to be alive.
Talking of HOMP – the Indian Guide to Roadside Eating, how was the experience of converting the show to a book? Were there any particular challenges?
Us leetle deefecult Inglis so hardly to write buks! That challenge aside, we had so many fans of the show asking us for recommendations for food in the places they were visiting. Finally we decided to write a book to share our knowledge of the amazing food, eateries and people we met along the way. The main challenge was that there was so much to write and so much to share, that editing was very difficult. The second challenge was that of time because in the midst of writing we were still traveling, shooting for further shows, and working on our other projects. The book was written in the wee hours of the morning – mostly between 2 am-6 am – and it really was a labour of love.
While we discuss food, we are quite interested in your journeys too. I understand that both of you have gone on road trips together for a while now, even before HOMP. What are some of the things that you explore and enjoy about places, apart from food of course?
We have been friends since 1976 and started our road journeys together as far back as 1987. We would jump into Rocky’s car at a moment’s notice with a small backpack and take off in whichever direction seemed best at the time. Often we would read of some place and decide to drive there immediately, even if it was at 2am in the morning. We once drove from Delhi to Haridwar (a 400 km return journey) in the middle of the night because we had decided to breakfast on hot puri-aloo from a little hole-in-the-wall shop in Haridwar. We went, we ate, we returned with happy smiles.
Besides food we prefer places which are closer to nature – be it forests, rivers or mountains. We both love watching wildlife and Rocky is a very keen and accomplished ornithologist. Rocky spent over a year driving all across India while Mayur has travelled across more than 65 countries in search of adventure and food. Rocky is a certified Divemaster and loves exploring the ocean depths while Mayur enjoys the challenge of long high altitude mountain treks. In every place we travel what makes the memories special are the amazing people we encounter, befriend, share meals and adventures with and who we always leave with a deep appreciation of India. Every time we leave home we represent our country and we always share our love and stories of India.
What, according to you, is the best way to explore India?
The way we do it on HOMP. Get out there, leave your comforts and daily routine behind. The road and a life less ordinary are only a decision away. Do it for a day, a week, a month, a year or a lifetime but do it. Even home will be exciting again when you return.
If I were to ask you to tell us about one dream road trip that you want to do together (and have still not done), which one would it be?
After driving 80,000 km across our beautiful country we are still excited about traveling and exploring more of India. We may have travelled more of India and eaten more food across our country than anyone ever has but we feel we have just scratched the surface of what India has to offer.
Besides that we would love to do a road journey like HOMP across the continent of South America, ending in the remote wilderness of Patagonia, which is often called the ‘end of the world.’ The food, the drink and the amazing people of this far-off continent are jewels waiting to be unearthed.
Lastly, the work that you do combining travel and food has all the characteristics of a wonderful exploration. What impact have these trips had on you?
We have a much greater appreciation for how amazing our country is. The cities of India do not do justice to our country. When you get out there and experience the love, the warmth, the welcoming smiles of perfect strangers just waiting to become friends, and of course the amazing food, then you will know the India we love.
Oh, and another personal impact is that between us we have put on close to 40 kilos of weight since starting the show five years ago.
Now it’s late and there is chocolate in the fridge. Ah, life!