Thursday, May 29, 2008

In search of set dosas

Here is an old article (more than a year-old) of mine that was published in the Deccan Herald as a middle.

It is well known how most women
crave for particular foods during
pregnancy. I too went through
immense dislike towards certain
foods and a desperate craving for
some foods (I hardly thought about
before) during my pregnancy. Set
dosas with coconut chutney and luscious
fruit salad had me in completely.
I imagined savoring morsels
of a spongy set dosa and tucking
into spoonfuls of delectable fruits
smothered with ice cream that
would taste exactly the way I wanted
it to.
I spent those nine months in
quest of this perfect meal. I tried set
dosas at almost every eatery in
town, but they just didn’t tingle my
taste buds the way I wanted them to.
And no hotel’s fruit salad made me
sigh with contention so I could stop
with my search.
Chewy dosas, the-too-thick ones,
the ones with a rancid taste, and
some that had a yucky yeasty flavor
— I discovered what a set dosa must
not taste like at all. The chutneys
spoke another tale: too watery, too
timid for the tongue, and shame-tocall-
it-a-chutney types were what I
encountered at most places. I finally
found my perfect fruit salad in a popular
dessert hangout in town and ordered
it almost everyday till I started
resembling a full-ripe pear myself.
But, no such luck with my
dosas, not yet.
Time ticked away and it was two
weeks for my delivery date. I could
no longer move about as freely with
my large belly, but I was determined
to savour merawallah dosa before
my baby came out. I decided to cook
them myself and turned to the website
for the perfect recipe and stumbled
upon a hundred variants. After
much research and running recipes
in my mind, I zeroed-in on the one
recipe I knew would yield me desired
results. I was thrilled. I prepared
the batter myself and checked
and re-checked the consistency. Satisfied,
I set it to ferment on the
kitchen counter and retired to bed. I
was just eight hours away from indulging
my cravings.
But by midnight, my baby decided
it was pointless to wait, and I was
rushed to the hospital for delivery. I
woke up from anesthetic slumber to
discover I had a baby boy and overheard
my mother and sister-in-law
discussing their enjoyable breakfast
that morning.
Sometimes, it's impossible
to wait for the favourite
food to taste perfect.

A Gastronomic Pause

The dusty winding roads, and the sweltering heat dissuades you from the three-hour journey to ‘my village’, but the pleasure of spending a weekend away from the city’s cacophony surpasses the dread of traveling.

The journey isn’t bad after all. And the familiar dilapidated school at the main road crossing brings a smile to my heart-we’d arrived. Lunch that day was cooked early morning in Bangalore and packed – fiery red mango chutney, a spicy brinjal koora, sambar comprising spinach and lentils, rice and curd. The chutney my aunt made had tiny chunks of mango that was mixed well with chilli powder, salt, jaggery and asafetida, thrown into hot oil with mustard, and simmered till they blended into a thick mass that can be spooned on to your plate. It was awesome.

The brinjal koora is as fiery. Big chunks of brinjal are cooked in hot oil with dry, grated coconut, spices, salt, and lemon juice. There is no electricity, and we’re sweating buckets as we eat. The people in the village believe this is a good way to eat – an overdose of spice and the heat makes you sweat profusely cooling the body. Interesting!

A weekend in ‘my village’ is all about food and sleep, probably with a walk that is strictly practiced during the evenings. A summer trip here warrants feasting of the local delicacies my maternal grandma would lovingly cook while we’re here: chinta chiguru pulusu, peanut chutney podi, kajjaya, and sajja rotti with onion chutney. It’s been long since grandma died, but we try to keep up the culinary tradition she set off and was so fiercely proud of.

The Sunday lunch is a bomb—rice, chinta chiguru pulusu, peanut chutney podi and curd all served generously with ghee. Rice is served with a lashing of ghee or clarified butter that is made from buffalo’s milk – delicious and distinct; you can’t wipe the taste off your mind for a long, long time. In spring or early summer, the tamarind tree blossoms with new leaves: yellow-green baby leaves that are just slightly sour to taste. These sprigs are picked and cooked with lentils, a paste of fresh coconut, shallots and jeera, salt, jaggery and spices till they form a pulpy mash— chinta chiguru pulusu— that mixes really well with the rice. This sambar also complements the local staple food: sangati (roughly translated into ragi balls). Well, this is a must-try.

The peanut chutney podi is ubiquitous in the village home. No mixers here. Just the stone hollow into which the ingredients are thrown in and pounded using a long wooden stump with the edge enameled with metal. Roasted peanuts, coarse salt, pungent tamarind, roasted red chillies, plenty of garlic, asafetida and a hint of jaggery are pounded together till they blend together beautifully into a coarse powder. This is a splendid accompaniment to lunch. Even the simple curd here has a creamy, satiny texture—made of buffalo milk. Extremely fattening…

In the evenings we walk to the village well-a massive, deep, one- nestled amidst what seems like an ancient mango grove. The sturdy branches of the grove serve well as seating for children, while the elders sit under its shade. The heavy lunch doesn’t deter us from eating more. We tear open the newspaper used to wrap the kajjayas—basically a sweet dish made out of jaggery, rice powder and til seeds in mixture patted into discs and deep fried. Hmm… beautiful.

The village hasn’t changed much; the people, the mindset, the innocence; it persists. Only a dish antenna is new, two have mobile phones, and a couple of bicycles have paved way for motorbikes. But there is an undercurrent of a pressing need to change: to adopt civilization. But till that happens, ‘my village’, is a perfect gastronomic pause, in the movie called ‘Life’.