Rumble Tumble To The Rescue: Story Of A Military Legacy Dish
Meghna Mathew

Rumble Tumble To The Rescue: Story Of A Military Legacy Dish

With a childhood unique to a small part of the population, all fauji kids are basically cut from the same cloth — we don our best manners at dinner parties and never forget to bid each guest a good night. We also shared the despicable feeling of having to pack and repack our lives into boxes before departing to a new home in a new city every few years. However, even amidst all this, a remarkable experience shared by us is the load (sometimes overload) of stories our fauji parents would unfurl on us, which unbeknownst to us at the time, would significantly affect our lifestyle.

My father, Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, who left the Indian Air Force a little over a decade ago has always narrated tales of the horrifying food he has eaten while away on temporary deployment. From maggot-ridden rice to a rotten egg sunny-side-up, nothing surprises him anymore when it comes to bad food. One of his better memories with food though, remains of a dish he frequently prepares, and we refer to as ‘Chow Chow’.

“When I was posted in Gorakhpur in 1990...” he begins in a typical fauji-father style of narration upon being asked to retell the story, probably for the 50th time. The story of Chow Chow goes that when he was in Gorakhpur for one of his initial postings, he and a few of his colleagues would hit the bar after their flying sessions and then head to dinner.

“The last call for drinks was at 10 pm and dinner stopped being served at 10.30 pm, so we naturally lined up a couple more drinks at 10, and proceeded to eat when we were done,” he says. One of the members of the kitchen staff, Ali, was their right-hand man who would whip up food for them during the late hours of the night. My father, with a tinge of coyness, says, “We wanted food, and Ali would never say no to a couple of large pegs of rum.”

Dad with fellow colleagues at Air Force Station Gorakhpur in 1990.

Getting to the juicy part, he tells me that one night the kitchen had run out of food. So there they were, five hungry bachelors and Ali, with no food to feed them. Assuring them that he will do something to fill their tummies, Ali went back to the kitchen and gathered whatever leftovers of the day he could find. He put them all in one big kadhai, added rice and cracked a couple of eggs into it. Minutes later, he laid it in front of the now famished men. When my father questioned him on what the dish is, he proudly replied, “Ye hai Ali ka Rumble Tumble” (this is Ali’s Rumble Tumble).

My father says the dish became a regular and other officers jumped on the bandwagon too. Ali Ka Rumble Tumble became famous, as did Ali. “It tastes different each time!” exclaims my father, clearly a fan of the dish. As officers came and went from Gorakhpur Air Force Station, so did word about the dish. The same phenomenon followed when cooks from Gorakhpur were posted across the country. Now, many Messes across the country are able to make this dish. “Whenever you pass the meal timings, be assured, Rumble Tumble will always be available,” he says.

15 years later, when my father visited Gorakhpur Mess with hopes to get a taste of Ali ka Rumble Tumble, he was informed that sadly, Ali had passed away. “Everyone knew about Rumble Tumble, though. Somehow, however, the name had been changed to Chow Chow,” he says.

Chow Chow is now a bimonthly preparation in the Mathew household. Whatever dal, sabzi, and gravy available, combined with rice and eggs (only for the brave, according to my father) makes for a more than filling meal. Each time my father asks, “Chow Chow for dinner?”, he receives a shaky ‘yes’. Most definitely a gamble each time, we can only hope that it tastes pleasant but more often than not, it is.

Possibly, Air Force officers across the country prepare Chow Chow/Rumble Tumble for their families and along with it, serve their own version of how they were introduced to the dish. With no correct and concrete way to describe this dish, children of many Indian Air Force officers would agree that it is ‘homely’. Although the dish is a one-off each time, there is a sense of familiarity attached to it, and fauji kids could definitely use some of that.

Photo: Meghna Mathew

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