Challi Aboo je.... a loud voice rings out in front of my house in Amritsar. And then this man rolls in with a cart. On top of the cart, a beige box filled with sand. And packed in this sand is that wonder called aboo challi, or roasted corn on the cob. Yet, it's not what you think of when you first hear corn on the cob.
Let me explain. Aboo challi is a rare breed. Unlike the charred, grilled corn on the cob, there is no open fire. The cart guy fills the beige wood box with red hot sand and then buries raw corn cobs deep into the hot pit. Several hours later, the corn slowly cooks into a flavor that's quite unlike the boiled or the roasted versions. The sand is still smoldering when the cart rolls into our neighborhood in the afternoon. The cart guy dips his hand in and brings out a perfectly cooked piece, brushes off the sand and then proceeds to brush rock salt and lime juice all over the corn.
Alas! aboo challi is a dying breed. My dad tells me that it takes too long to roast corn cobs the traditional way so the vendors have resorted to a shortcut. The boil the corn, then put it in lukewarm sand to create the same atmosphere but not the same flavor. No wonder the aboo challi I bought on the trip home last week did not bring back any memories.
And then I realized, Punjab (like indeed, any other place) is full of food traditions no google search will bring up. Food traditions that my parents and uncles and aunts grew up with, but traditions that are now just memories. So I'm going to sit these people down, get their stories and write them here. Just so someone remembers!