Category Archives: eating

The Waiter at the Hotel and his blow for Women’s Rights

I have blogged earlier about the feminist audit of restaurants, a practice of looking at how restaurant staff treated the women customers, what were the roles they were expecting from men and women and how equitable was this.

 

I think at this point, the undoubted winner on my feminist audit is a little roadside stall in Coimbatore. I was there a few months ago with my husband. This  is a little shop with just maybe four tables, but he does roaring business. We were staying for a couple of days at a nearby lodge and we pretty much had every meal with him.

Like many little places in South India, food is served on banana leaves. Some of the restaurants also insist that the customer clears away the banana leaf themselves. Its probably a labor saving practice, and also the concept of ‘Ecchal (or Jhoota) is very powerful in Tamil Nadu, and some places may therefore feel that everybody clears up their own plate and food remains.

As customers, sometimes we forget to do this, not because we think it is wrong, but because one generally never thinks of cleaning up the plates in a restaurant. I had myself forgotten one morning during breakfast and he had to come and remind me as I was washing my hand, that I had to put my plate away.

This is what happened when my husband finished eating and walked away to wash his hand. He forgot to pick up his leaf. Two waiters were standing nearby, and one of them called after him to pick it up. Even as my husband was turning, the other one indicated to his colleague that I was at the table and I would probably clear up both our plates. But the first waiter gave a sharp rejoinder. Its his plate and he clears up. We cant expect her to clear it up for him.

I am not saying this man is a great feminist. I dont even know what he does at home. Does he wash his own plates or expect the women in the family to do it. And I have also seen men who may be doing all household work and not expect anything from the women, but still have their own notions of patriarchy and male superiority. But it was nice to see a public upholding of men and women having to take up equal responsibility.

Advertisements

Learning to Like a Small Town : Adventures in Trichy

 

This year, i moved to a city in Tamil Nadu, Tiruchirapalli. Its not really a small town. Its one of the major cities in the state. Its a huge trading centre. But in my head, it was very much a small town. It was also a bit of a come down because as a Tamilian, I was going back to the heart of Tamil Nadu. I started thinking where I lived would no longer be exotic. I would no longer try to understand other people’s cultures, their world views. Because everyone would be just like me.  Never mind that I have never lived in Tamil Nadu and actually have a very poor understanding of Tamil culture. That my understanding of Tamil culture was limited to an elitist brahmin culture and Tamil Nadu had much much more to offer. But for me, Trichy just didnt seem exciting enough.

And the food. I had lived in Ahmedabad, which I thought was foodie paradise. What could trichy offer other than Idli or dosas. ANd I dont even like eating them. Definitely not at hotels. How could my food devotee image survive in Trichy.

I tried my best to think positive, but I came here with deep misgivings. Maybe it was good I had those misgivings. It made me overcompensate in trying to find joys in Trichy. So I am now going to start a little series – of little things I love in this city. Its my gratitude journal for this place. For people who know me, you will not be surprised to see that most of these little joys are to do with food. But beyond that also, Trichy continues to surprise me.

My First post on this series will soon come up : Trichy Special Paruthi Paal (cottonseed milk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A to Z Blogging Challenge : U is for Upma, kozhakattai and other typical South Indian tiffins

 

You really have to be a South Indian to understand the value of upma and tiffins. In the north, tiffin seems to mean anything which is packed to be consumed later, either at school or workplace, and from what I see, it is mostly roti, puris or variations thereof. Of course, with idli and dosa batter being available in most supermarkets now, people are venturing to pack these items too, but largely they stick to what is familiar.

 

When I was growing up my tiffin dabba consisted almost exclusively of a very non-tiffin item : curd rice. I have blogged earlier about how this is comfort food for most South Indians and I must be one of the many who carried this item to school everyday throughout my school life. In fact, during those brief ocassions when I had to carry a tiffin dabba to work, I again ended up carrying this item only. ‘

 

When I explained this to my Delhi raised husband, he was stunned. According to him curd rice was almost never carried to school because the tiffin dabba is kept with the school books and carrying curd rice means you risk ruining your books. The concept of having a separate basket which would carry your dabba, water bottle, napkin and spoon seemed alien to him, whereas almost all of us at school always carried our food separately from our books.

 

Which brings me to upma, a very typical tiffin item.Upma is made with a wide variety of base items :powdered  rice, vermicilli, beaten rice,  wheat, semolina. Basic principles of making it are the same, dry roast the base, and then add it to boiling water and let it cook. Your base items decides the extent of water which is added to ensure it is well cooked. One needs to be careful with the water because cooking in less water makes the upma very hard and unpalatable, and pouring excessive water will make it overcooked and feeling like tasteless  porridge.  With rice, there is also a variation called upma kozhakattai where you cook the rice half way as in upma, then make it into small balls (like dumplings) and then steam it. It is a kind of cross between upma and idlli and being double cooked makes it very soft and is a favorite of my daughter.

 

As a matter of fact, I personally have disliked upma for most of my life. I realized its value onlly when I had to daily pack a tiffin for my daughter and I knew that no matter how much I tried my parathas and puris would never be great and what is more I didnt have the energy to make them everyday. Upma, in its various forms can be alternated for most of the week, and allows me to plan breakfast accordingly.

 

Upma is easy to make, easy to carry and generally not so messy to eat (as long as you have a spoon). It requires little preparation time (no need to soak and grind batter). In fact it is generally regarded as a kind of item you offer to unexpected visitors, because it hardly takes time to make. A point of South Indian protocol : If you are have invited a person to eat and have had plenty of time to prepare for their visit, it is bad form to serve them upma, because upma is almost exclusively made for guests only when they drop in suddenly.

So upma is definitely not a fine dining item. Be that as it may, it is definitely a very quintessential south indian item.  I havent seen variations of this in other parts of India, and although I have not travelled the world so much I doubt if there is any equivalent of upma anywhere.

 

And while we are at it, can anyone enlighten me on why this name. It is the same in all south indian languages (upma in Tamil, Uphittu in Kannada and Uppupindi in Telugu). Roughly translated it means salt and flour, but we rarely use fully ground flour in it.

Tagged , , , ,

A to Z Blogging Challenge : J is for Junkfood, street food and why I very much prefer the latter

I guess many may regard junk food and street food as one and the same. Or many who prefer junk food over street food because junk food has more impeccable packaging and lets face it, street food, specially in India is not prepared in the most clean of places.

 

One easy way I distinguis the two is the source, junk food is largely branded, prepared in large scale. Street food is local recipes prepared on a limited basis in a place you can see. But there is more to it than the source. Junk food goes through multiple cycles of storing and reheating.  For example compare vada pav from a street vendor and the same item from say an airport shop (if at all any airport in India has sense enough to sell something really nice other than overpriced dosas, horrid panner rolls and couc couc salad, ugh). Airports will serve you stale vada pav heated in a microwave. This affects the taste in a very fundamental way. It is not crisp, the spice balance is disturbed. THe street vendor is going to give you fresh items because for him it makes sense to keep the vada half ready and then fry it when you order.You can feel the aloo inside must have gone for a dip in the oil and tastes much better.

 

I guess the same classification holds no matter what the item is. Pizza or pasta purchased from a roadside vendor is freshly made and hence not junk food but Italian street food. Three day old vadapavs microwaved and served in airports is junk food never mind its very desi origins.

 

I guess it is the freshness which distinguishes street food from junk food. I know the microwave has wrought a revolution in cooking and made life simpler for a lot of us, but I feel the presence of microwave encourages a lot of food reheating. They cycle of cooking excess food, refrigerating and then reheating gets kind of vicious in the end. Maybe that is why I am happy that I come from a traditional brahmanical family where cooked food in refrigerator is a strict no no. I dont like most of the restrictions imposed on me because of this background but this is one I appreciate. It forces me to cook moderate quantities enough for one day, and makes sure I realize the price for overcooking in the most literal way. A friend of mine and her family even made away with the refrigerator completely, because they realized they ate fresh food all the time, without that. I dont mean, an elaborate three course meal prepared fresh everytime, but even a simple single course meal which is made a few minutes before serving is well worth it.

 

Which is why I will eat street food over junk any day. And encourage my child to do the same.

Tagged , , , ,