The realization that I had gotten ‘Canteen Man’s’ name wrong for all that time had come to me as a hollow loss. I liked calling him ‘Ting Ting Man’ – he was my favorite. The clicking sound of coins on glass cases by eager little hands waiting for treats during ‘short-break’, was what my tiny six year old head associated him with. ‘Ting Ting Man’ never sounded absurd until then.
In my unconscious mind he is still ‘Ting Ting Man’, who sold the world’s best 25-paise samosas and 5-paise Vicks lozenges. Being his customer, being able to buy with money, made me feel important and being important is a huge accomplishment when one is a first grader. Some things are better left just the way they were first perceived as a child – mispronounced and unadulterated. Childhood memories need to be a recollection of imperfect attempts at understanding the world.
Of the trillions of ‘favorites’ at that age there was yet another man. We called him ‘Cakeman’. He was as dependable as the school building itself. He and his aluminum trunk – one incomplete without the other. And in that trunk were goodies that made every child very happy – very, very happy.
His selection never varied: a few cakes – some with cream, almond biscuits, and pattice. No matter how many times I had seen his selection it never tired me to look again and again … not for once in the twelve years I spent going to school. Perhaps he knew children thrive on stability and the comfort of the known. He had us mastered.
Almond cookies were the least expensive and seemed like the wisest thing to buy, as they were big and flavourful and didn’t pinch the tiny pocket. But my favourite after the cream rolls were the pattice – a filled puff pastry is known as pattice in India. He had them with meat and vegetable fillings, all sold at less than Rs 1.25 per piece. The non-vegetarian filling was mostly of onions and a scattering of minced meat and the crust made crunchy by hydrogenated vegetable oils. No matter where else I ate another pattice, how buttery it’s pastry, and how substantial the filling, it never quite tasted like a ‘pattice’ to me. My parents laughed when I remarked that the pattice from Kathleen (a renowned confectioner in the 1980s) was not as good as ‘Cakeman’s’.
Taste does not entirely come from ingredients. Taste does not necessarily come from how well a food is prepared and – by far – not from its expense. Taste is about the memories that it creates, the comfort and reassurance it sews within us. Taste is made up of happy accidents of all the right and wrong situations in life. Sometimes a perfect recipe fails in taste – a good recipe becomes the wrong recipe because that feeling that it is supposed to stir in your heart and soul turns out to be the missing ingredient.
So is the recipe for this pattice. It is the wrong recipe in my books because there isn’t a shortage of minced meat in it. The pastry is rich and fragrant – made of good butter. And it is all ‘wrong’ because it isn’t Cakeman’s pattice … but then not a whole lot of you would like it his way.
I still think about ‘Ting Ting Man’ and ‘Cakeman’, and I wonder where they are now … probably old enough to retire peacefully, one hopes. Do they miss the children who they shined a smile upon? They must. If only they knew how dearly we held them in our hearts then and now. In my own way, I think that these gentle men of the street would be happy to know that they have a documented mention in cyberspace.
- Minced Meat: 16 oz
- Butter: 1 Tbsp
- Onions: 1 large, finely chopped
- Garlic: 2 cloves, minced
- Flour: 1 Tbsp
- Worcestershire sauce: 2 Tbsp
- Paprika: 1/2 tsp
- Mace Powder: 1/8 tsp
- Puff Pastry: 2 sheets
- Egg: 1 , beaten
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Heat butter and fry the onion, garlic and minced meat until meat is halfway cooked through. Do not cook over high heat as it will create a dry filling.
- Add the Worcestershire sauce, paprika and mace and stir to combine. Fry for a min or two. Add salt and pepper to taste (add a little less salt, keeping in mind the Worcestershire sauce contains a some salt)
- Add the flour and fry for a min, then add 1/2 cup water and let the meat finish cooking.
- The filing is ready when the meat is cooked through and moist.
- Preheat oven at 425F.
- Cut each pastry into 4 sections.
- Take each piece of pastry and depending on the kind of shape you would like to make add the filling slightly toward the side. Brush the sides of the pastry with the beaten egg and fold over to form a triangle or a rectangle. Fold over and gently press the sides to make a seal. You can also use your fork to press down the sides.
- Arrange the pattice on your baking sheet and pop them in the fridge for 10-15 mins.
- When pastry is chilled, brush the tops with the egg wash and bake for 20-25 mins or until the pattice is puffed and beautifully golden browned on top.
- Serve hot.