Category Archives: food

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 : N is for New Years all year around

A to Z Blogging Challenge Apr 16 N

 

I remember reading a humorous essay by PG Wodehouse on how one could practically celebrate New Year all year around because different cultures had different days marked as New Year. I think Wodehouse’s point was that if you celebrated New Year with drinks and if you wanted to celebrate New Years of multiple cultures, you would end up with a bad hangover pretty much all the time.

 

Now he was not familiar with India probably, or he would have wondered how we ever stay sober with our endless New Years within the country. Just for me personally, I think I celebrate four new years in a year. I celebrate January 1 as New Year. I dont care if right wingers think it is not Indian culture, I am quite happy to observe the event. Then there is Ugadi (which is New Year as per the Lunar Calender, and is observed in the Southern States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu). I grew up in Karnataka, so I follow this practice. Closely following that is Tamil New Year (which is New Year according to Solar Calender, followed in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala). I am a Tamilian, so it makes sense to follow this. And finally, I have lived in Gujarat for the last five years, and  the Gujarati New Year comes much after all these (almost in November, right after Diwali). I may not be sufficiently acclimitized here to know what are the customs of Gujaratis are, but living here, I definitely acknowledge the day and greet people.

 

And I think I have covered only a fraction of New Years celebrated in India. I still dont even know what is the New Year according to a vast majority of the population.

 

Thankfully, customs around New Year in India dont always involve drinking. The most delightful custom, according to me is to cook something sweet, sour and bitter on the day, to acknowledge that in our lives, we need to have space for all three kinds of events. So more new years means more opportunities to gorge on sour mango jam, payasam and roasted neem flowers. .

Tagged , , ,

A to Z Blogging Challenge : I is for Icecream and living in Icecream city

Ahmedabad is most certainly THE icecream city. It not only has all kinds of local brands of icecream and all kinds of new flavors, but also the citizens who are all slightly obsessed with ice creams.

 

There are probably many social and economic reasons why icecreams are so available and relatively cheaper in Ahmedabad. For one, this is still the city of largely local ice creams. No fancy ice cream parlour chains here. We have a lot of local dairy selling their wares, and even the popular brands – Vadilal and Havmor- are Amdavadi brands.

 

And then there are the flavors. There are some really good experiemental flavors here (Cinnamon, ginger, green tea!!!), and in local shops, natural means really natural. I know Naturals is a big brand in other metros, and whenever I hear other people mentioning going to Naturals for an overpriced ice cream, I feel proud of the city I live in. Here natural means you will only get the flavors as per the season. Natural means, your orange ice cream will have the orange fruit and sometimes, ocassionally and unintentionally, even the orange seed.

 

Local ice creams do not get the creamy texture of the branded ice creams. Sometimes, there is ice in it. But that sort of makes each ice cream eating experience unique. You never know how this lot of ice cream will taste compared to the previous time you ate it, even if it is the same flavor in the same shop.

 

And then there is of course the experience of eating ice cream. Perhaps that is why Ahmedabad is the ice cream city. Not just because it is one of the foremost milk producing state, not just because it houses Amul, but because here entire families think nothing of coming out in all hours of the day and night to have a couple of ice creams. Every time you step out for a ice cream you are sure to see a family there, where three to four generations are eating ice creams together. Kids of seven to eight are up and bright at 11 in the night and having their ice creams, early school hours and need to be in bed be damned.

Tagged , , ,

Food, culture and bonding : The joys of Indian food

It is a long cherished dream for me and my husband, to undertake a sort of ‘food tour’ across the country, visiting different places to savor the local foods there. While we may have covered barely one tenth of the country, we make it a point that wherever we go, we seek out the local food there.

This actually is becoming quite difficult in recent years, because there is a kind of pan Indian taste which is taking over. All North Indian food gets subsumed into the Punjabi category (even though it is not even true Punjabi) and if you go by restaurants which sell South Indian food in North, we only seem to be living on only Idli and Dosa. Local people themselves do not advocate the local food, but guide visitor to the places, where there is more common Indian food, which according to them, the visitor will like.

For instance, on a trip to Shirdi, around the shrine, we mostly saw Andhra messes and pale imitations of Gujarati food. When we asked the cab driver to take us to a place selling Maharashtrian food, he looked a bit blank, then replied that we would not like it. When we pushed him, he took us to a small restaurant, slightly far from the shrine. The waiter was again a bit skeptical about us, offering to serve us the conventional Punjabi food, but after a lot of pushing, he finally served us some yummy baakri, thaalipith (maharashtrian breads) pitla (a gram flour based side dish) and techa (ground nut based super spicy chutney).

Similarly, when we were visiting Hampi, in North Karnataka, our cab driver point blank refused to take us to the local Khanavali. Since I have traveled a bit in the region and know about their culture, I insisted on going to one, and his reply was that Khanavali was not a place for people like us, and we should stick to the Tourism department hotels. I had to dip into my limited knowledge of North Karnataka style Kannada, in order to convince him that I knew jolly well what I was asking for.

It is perhaps because of this love to explore regional varieties of food, that around the time of Pongal/Makar Sankranti/Lohri/Uttarayan, I organized a pot luck at home with all the invitees bringing in some kind of food unique to their region. So we had undhiyu from Gujarat, Kothmir Vada from Maharashtra, different kinds of Pongal from the south, Moong Dhal Pakoda from UP, different varieties of puri and thepla, Parippu curry from Kerala and Aloo Poshto from Bengal.

It is the last two items, which revealed some cultural vignettes. When my husband encouraged my Bengali neighbor to sample the Parippu Curry from Kerala, he remarked that the dish was very similar to something made in Bengal. It underlined the fact that these two states share a lot of similarities beyond their love for Marx. Or maybe it was through all the comrade bonding that recipes got exchanged and became localized.

The last item, Aloo Poshto, is seriously something. It is potatoes cooked in Khas Khas (poppy seeds) and seasoned with mustard oil. Khas khas is fairly expensive item, and seldom used in a large scale while cooking (at least by us Tamils), but this item was fairly dripping in it. When I spoke to the provider of the item later, I remarked that this was a really expensive item to cook. To which he explained that it was not the case traditionally. Large parts of Bihar and Bengal used to or were forced to cultivate poppy to feed the needs of the British run opium factories back in the eighteenth century. So Aloo poshto or even plain Poshto in mustard oil was a very logical food for many peasants. They simply ate what they grew. Now that poppy seed production is highly regulated, this item has become practically unattainable for many.

I hope India retains its diverse food and the stories that go with them, at least long enough for me to finish my food tour. And I hope that in places I visit in future, localites are not diffident about their cuisine but push us to eat it with pride.

Tagged , , , ,