What is the food that always travels with people from your region?

Kanchuki & I were laughing a few days about how people from Assam always carry tamulpaan (areca nut & betel leaves) where ever they go. They will take out their small filigreed metal cases of tamul & paan and delicately pull out a single leaf, wrap the tamul in it, place it in their mouths and begin to chew in joy, often closing their eyes in rapture. If the sight of this causes you to gather up courage and ask for some, you will be briefly met with a glare, before your Assamese friend sighs in resignation to his gentler nature and shares some (just a little!) with you. People from Assam love their fish, their tea and their saag – but I believe they would happily travel without any of those things, if only they could get to carry their tamul-paan!

So Kanchuki asked me – “What is it that Tamilians would never travel without?”. The answer was obvious to me, of course – it is a little bit of “starter” curd, which they can use to set dahi anywhere they may go. Tamilians can be obsessive about their curd, and otherwise fearful and timid maamis can be found smuggling “starter” curd through customs in airports across the world! This is the one thing that even the most meek Tamilian would happily wrestle to keep in their possession when they cross borders.

So here’s the meme: What is the one food that people from your region cannot travel without? What is that one food that is so loved, that they will smuggle, steal and die for it?

A Poem: My Wife’s Cooking

(re-posting from my blog, http://appapappa.com/?p=278)

My Wife’s Cooking

I come to the table preoccupied
You serve me dal with rice,
Simple to cook, done in a jiffy –
3/4th cup dal, 2 cups water,
Turmeric, and a pinch of salt –
Boil, boil, till it is done.
Then the tadka, a splatter in hot oil
Of kalonji, or red chilies maybe?
Simple, fast, easy – done!

I lose myself to the food wholly
Mashing the dal with the steaming rice
I blow on my fingers,
Bite on a green chilly
Spoon in a mouthful
Squeeze in some lemon
A slice of onion & cucumber
Another mouthful of rice with dal,
Repeat till the plate is wiped clean.

You have my attention fully now –
I smile in love, nay, devotion.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”,
A truer word was never spoken!
Some magic in your hands, my love
Or perhaps some love in your heart –
Your cooking is wonderful, a wonder
Your food so tasty & delicious, divine!
Like no other food in earth or heaven.


A visit to the Doctor, and Oatmeal Pancakes

I am waiting for the day that I can meet a fat and jolly doctor who says something like: “Go on, have a drink or two daily, eat whatever you want and exercise – yes, yes, that’s important, do some light stretching in bed when you wake up, and that’ll be enough.”

My Dr., unfortunately, is ever more despondent than the stereotype: he is sour-faced and glum, with a nervous tic above his left eye and a way of avoiding eye-contact that makes you break out into a cold sweat in anticipation of impending doom.

“Your cholesterol is way too high. How old are you again, tch-tch, too high for your age”, he said a few weeks ago during a routine check-up. “You should eat healthy –  sugar, salt, raw foods, fried foods and any milk products – all to be avoided completely. Best for you that way, tch-tch.”

I looked away, and then said in a quavering, defiant voice, “How bad can it be, I exercise often and feel quite fit.”

“Bad, bad. Pukka renal failure if you continue drinking that free coke you get in office,” he said, changing the subject. “One thing before you leave – eat oats in the morning, six-seven times a week, will be good for your bowel movements. Make payment outside, 500 Rs., and don’t forget – six-seven times, oats, otherwise pukka rectal disorders also, not only renal failure!”

The prognosis of rectal disorders due to lack of oats in my diet was scary. Even scarier was the vision of my slurping mushy and tasteless horse-food each morning and then overexerting my delicate posteriors. As long as I can remember, I’ve hated cereal of any kind – oats, dhalia, kanji and even the more fancy Kelloggs – all of these have been bucketed during childhood in my brain as a poor substitute for a real breakfast, to be made messily by dad when mom was out of town. What kind of breakfast is bland and cold anyway? Real breakfast, best breakfast is idli-dosa, served hot with spicy chutneys and steaming sambar!

I walked back home, deep in thought. Then, in a sudden flash of uncharacteristic resourcefulness and optimism I thought, “Well, there’s got to be something tasty that can be made out of oatmeal!”. The very next day, I experimented with making oatmeal pancakes, you can find the recipe below. I ate the pancakes with a yogurt – banana – honey syrup, and honestly, it was quite edible, and made me feel healthy too!

Prognosis? More oatmeal pancakes for breakfast in the offing…

Oatmeal Pancakes with yoghurt-banana-honey syrup

  • For the pancakes:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 egg
  • 4 table spoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Some olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Directions: Beat the egg, milk and Olive oil together. Stir the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix in the egg/milk/oil mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes. Heat a skillet and make your pancakes!
  • For the syrup: Beat 1/2 cup yoghurt, along with honey. Mix in diced bananas and almonds.
  • Serve: Serve the pancakes with the syrup, and go “Yummy… it’s edible!”

Question: Zaike ka Safar

A few months ago, one of my friends suggested taking an epicurean adventure across India – he referred to it as Zaike ka Safar. Now, we didn’t discuss the spots we’d hit, but somehow I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind and I would keep thinking about the idea every once in a while.

Over time, I have come up some criteria in place for the trip; however, I haven’t yet decided the mouth-watering itinerary! Here’s my criteria… I need your help!

  • The trip should be maximum of 7 days long.
  • It should be a round-trip.
  • You can catch a flight, ride a train or drive
  • There should be something to look forward to each breakfast, lunch, snack time & dinner.

So, what do you think would make the best week-long foodie trip in India? Share your thoughts!

Peeling Garlic

I love using garlic in my cooking – but peeling it is an onerous, odorous task! The smell of the garlic stays on your fingers for a few days, and this can be unappetizing when you are eating laddoos, for instance!  The standard way to quickly peel garlic can be googled – check it out on AllRecipes. However, the last time my mother was in town, she taught me a quick & un-smelly method that I hadn’t seen before:

  1. Toss in the garlic and a few teaspoons of water into a microwave safe bowl.
  2. Microwave for 30 seconds.
  3. Rejoice, for you can easily squeeze the pods of garlic out of their skins!