Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The divine taste of Udupi cuisine

The morning I re-located to Secunderabad from Bangalore(eight years ago), Our container arrived very late and so, setting up the kitchen was out of question for the next few hours.

We were tired and famished. The closest hotel near my house was an Irani hotel, with kebabs dangling outside. Having come from a vegetarian Brahmin family used to the typical Bangalore darshini’s sandarshini’s, SLV’s & sagar’s I found it difficult to eat anything. Later I went to the Balaji mithai bhandar – a Marwari sweet shop to find if there were any veg hotels nearby. He too had no clues.

Later during our weekend outings we found Veg hotels which were grand in décor , ambience and very expensive. But soon, I chanced upon many Udupi restaurants like udipi tiffins,, udipi dosa point etc. The dosas were not like the ones made in Udupi restaurant in Bangalore. Ask my taste buds. They know better. They have tasted the food for more than 30 years in Bangalore.

The restaurant had nothing to do with Udupi , The restaurateur confessed he used the brand name so that people would flock seeing the name. That is the magnetic effect of Udupi cuisine, people simply flock to the hotels on seeing the name. Infact some original udupi restaurants like Dasaprakash, woodlands and Adiga’s don’t prefix the udupi tag.

Udipi is a small temple town in coastal Karnataka. This place is also called Annabrahmakshetra (where food is the religion). Like Thanjavur Brahmins, Tulu Brahmins of Shivalli( a village close by Udupi) treat their food as god. So they prepare the food only after having a bath. Their cuisine is strictly vegetarian and without onions and garlic, very clean and pure. They use vegetables, lentils, dry red Byadgi chillies ( not very spicy) coconuts and fruits like pineapple, apple, banana, jackfruit etc and hence their food is laced with sweetness.

Today one can find Udupi food practically in all corners of the world. They give their branded pizza, burger competitors a run for their money. The Udupi restaurtants are basically owned by Shivalli tulu Brahmins. Their recipes originated in the temple kitchens of the Ashta mathas( Udupi math) and they are passed on generations through word of mouth that explains why it tastes like ‘Ghar Ka Khana’.

No fancy décor, no mood/ candle lights, no fancy porcelain plates but clean ambience , efficient quick service, reasonable prices, yummy, pure home made food away from home all served on clean eco-friendly plaintain leaves/ clean plates. You can bet it is an Udupi hotel.

Personally, I like the pineapple gojju( sweet & sour gravy) , dum root halwa(a sweet made from pumpkin) Masala dosa(though dosa has its origins in Tamilnadu it was popularised by the Udupi restaurants especially the masala dosa) , kara bath and kesaribath with chunks of pineapple( this combo is called chow-chow bath in Bangalore).

We do have the Tulu Brahmins hotel in Secunderabad. They have deviated from their original taste and expanded into the Chinese territory of Manchurian and noodle with upscaled prices.

I also miss the clean darshini’s & sagar’s of Bangalore serving masala dosa ambode, akki roti, bonda soup, shavige uppittu and chow chow bath, bisibele bath and vangi bath. All easy on my pocket and located around the corner.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

GO GREEN -- The new age mantra

Sometimes I visualize myself in a lush emerald green grassy meadow sprinkled with beautiful and colorful flowers, skirted by hills on the farthest end, a sun shimmering deep blue brook flowing by, listening to the sound of the bells of the cattle grazing by and inhaling fresh unpolluted oxygen. Hmmm , visualizing the place itself is so thereaupetic.

Cut to reality, though I live away from the humdrum of the city traffic, there are many high rise construction around my housing society and many new constructions coming up all around. The frequent construction activity sounds, sand, cement debris flying, blasting of huge boulders, car sounds of nearly 700 cars whizzing by all add to the noise and air pollution.

Now this air pollution in Hyderabad city is said to be triggering sinusitis amongst the Hyderabad population. I too am a vicitim of this situation. Of late I have been getting weird pressurizing pains in my ears ,nose , eyes and all round my head. On my visit to the doctor it was confirmed as sinusitis – a gift from present day environment to mankind.

With many ailments striking us , People are growing increasingly aware of the need to protect and save our environment. Go Green is the new age mantra. Every individual aware of the environmental change should take steps to conserve our surroundings.

Our housing society also sparked off a 'save our environment' thought process. ITC limited used our Republic day celebrations as an ideal platform to kick start their program in our society. They have handed over a recycled sack to every resident. All plastic covers of chocolates, wafers like kurkure covers, card board cartons of spices, toothpaste, metal pieces, unwanted paper waste make way into this sack. Every fortnight they come and collect these sacks. To encourage participation they also pay Rs2/kg of waste. 60 kgs of such waste is supposed to save a tree. These wastes are recycled at their plant. An excellent thought well taken by our society and especially these messages reach children very fast. My 11 year old son makes it a point to take the tiniest bit of paper to this sack. Each fortnight when a truck load of waste goes from our campus, I heave a sigh of relief and a small satisfied smile that we too are able to contribute towards saving our earth in our own small way. If the organisations and NGO's tied with many residential and commercial complex it would make a huge difference to our planet.

Other than these I also take my own sack bag to get vegetables, I avoid buying plastics , use eco-friendly products like CFL’s at home for lighting.

Hope our government and environmental agencies also enforce strict rules and ban plastics and encourage eco-friendly products by not levying taxes on them , make them affordable to common man.

Almost each family has 3 cars today one each for husband,wife and child to be driven around by the driver. Government should take measure to curb the traffic and pollution by regulating the registration of on road vehicles.

Let's Go green and save our blue planet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sevai/ idiappam - a traditional tamil recipe

Starting my series on traditional recipes. The first one in this series is the rice sevai (stringhoppers). It is also popularly known as rice noodles. This is basically a breakfast dish but with one’s creativity and with the variety of flavors you add , it can also extend on your dinner table as a total meal. The instant rice noodles packet is readily available in supermarkets, but the real taste lies when it is freshly extruded at home. This requires a special equipment called sevai nazhi ( sevai extruder) which is available in all steel stores in Tamilnadu. My Mil made it two days before since shreya wanted to have them for dinner. Now for the recipe for sevai.

(my son helping his grandmother)

Ingredients: ( to serve 4)
2 cups Parboiled rice
2 tsps of gingelly oil

Soak parboiled rice and grind it into a paste in a grinder with out adding much water. Let it be slightly looser than the chappati dough. Now in a thick bottomed dish, thicken the dough by adding gingelly oil till the raw smell of the rice disappears. Switch off the stove and close the lid on the dish so that it has some standing time to steam.

Now pinch a handful of dough with wet hands and shape them into small dumplings.
Steam the dumplings in a idli cooker/steamer.

After steaming, take the dumplings and place in the hollow of the sevai extruder. Screw the lid over the hollow till the extrusions fall on the plate below.
Now you have the freshly made sevai.

(Instead of parboiled rice, you can also use the rice powder available in the shop. In this case you have to boil the water (for 2cups of flour take same measure of water) and add 2 spoons of oil and salt and then add the required amount of rice flour and thicken the dough and rest of the process follows same as above)

Dressing these sevai now depends on your favorite taste and spice/sweeten them accordingly.

The basic seasoning for all spicy sevai is as below( extruded from 2 cups of rice)
1tsp mustard
1tsp urad dal
Sprig of curry leaf
Green chilli/red chilli according to your taste
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt according to your taste

Take a Deep thick bottomed pan. Pour two table spoons of gingelly oil. When it reaches smoking point, add mustard seeds when it stops crackling add urad dal(lentil) – when it slightly changes light brown in color, add green chilli and salt.

Now customize the seasoning:

For lemon sevai. To the basic seasoning(BS) add the juice of a lemon and little turmeric powder and then add the extruded sevai and mix. When you mix it roughly there is a possibility for it to stick together. So the back part of a ladle or fork to mix the spices properly. Now you are lemon sevai is ready. You can eat it without any accompaniment since all the flavors are available in the mix. If you still prefer to have a side dish it goes well with coconut chutney.

Coconut sevai : To the BS, fry coconut gratings of one full coconut and then mix in the sevai. You can garnish this sevai with groundnuts if you please.

Tamarind sevai: To the BS, add 2-3 spoons of Thick tamarind paste and boil them by adding little water till it loses the raw smell.Then add the sevai to make it into tamarind sevai and garnish it with groundnuts.

Sweet sevai : For this take the freshly extruded sevai and add powdered sugar/ jaggery, powdered cardamom, pinch of edible camphor and gratings of coconut. Mix them well and your sweet sevai is ready.( don’t add salt). You can further richen it by adding your favorite nuts.

One can also make milagu sevai ( by adding pepper, cumin powder), ulattham sevai ( using the filling of kara kozhakkatai)

(pic of vegetable sevai)
To make your children eat this traditional dish market it as Indian noodles and it will all be gone in a trice. It works with my daughter , I have to hardsell this to my son. I also resort to some emotional atyachaar like ‘ people these days prefer Western and oriental food , but when it comes to Indian food unless it makes to the western market , children of these days don’t eat ….. etc etc’. My daughter’s choice of sevai is plain sevai with sambar.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Childhood - then & now

These days electronic and paper media is filled with news of students and young children taking extreme steps. With exam time closing in some children and parents appear stressed.

Why is this so frequent now-a-days? Was childhood different two decades back? And is it different now?

Catch the difference below as I perceive child hood of the past & now. These are my views taken from the surroundings I live and many may not subscribe to the views here and it is not applicable to everyone.

One striking difference between the childhood then and now is that we were ignorant and hence innocent.Ignorance was indeed bliss. We were not exposed to the electronic goods and media and information, neither did we have parental, peer or school pressure . We found pleasure and satisfaction in very simple things and were not shielded from difficulties.

Those days the women folk after finishing their household work would sit around and learn to knit, paint, can products like jam, juice etc., and watched Tv some times( doordarshan). They had time to prepare delicious food and serve with love to children. Men folk would return home early added to that were the presence of grandparents, uncles and aunts who formed the joint family. Children came home to a joint family where they could relate the day’s happenings and problems which destreesed them

Today some parents have their own stressed lives to deal with not just working parents even stay at home moms. No time to care and spend time with their children. They send them to many extracurricular classes after school hours so they can keep their kids busy and attend to their work. With no extended family structure to sympathize with their feelings at home, parents at work they have become latch key kids and to compensate for the time spent with kids parents indulge their children’s fancies. Result they get everything today and are not prepared for a ‘ no’ in their later lives.Infact the temple priest who does puja at our native village temple who has very little salary has 3 mobile numbers. He said he bought the Hutch(a service providing company) number since his son wanted to have the number.His son is studying only in Class IV.

Those days When it came to making/breaking with friends, Parents never interfered. They did not allow us to choose and pick a friend. We had our fights with friends,cousins and siblings. They never shielded us from our problems but they were there to guide us through out.
Today parents are vice versa. They don’t allow children to rough out their lives. They are in a protective environment. They shield them from all the difficulties, Pick fights for their children’s sake with teachers, friends and do not allow their children to sort out their differences. Result is you are not able to face life without their help.

There were schools with good infrastructure and affordable fees. Education was not business then.Teachers those days were dedicated ,inspiring and taught us in simple ways in an airy environment. The stress free teachers imparted education on black boards in a way that it registered for a long time in our memory. Along with curriculum, moral values were instilled with dedication.The spiritual classes and prayers taught in school kept us mentally saner. Parents never sat with us and pressurized us to perform. Instead they would motivate us with simple words whilst doing their own work.

Today we have designer schools from various business companies which charge astronomical fees. Parents vie with one another to admit their child in the so called branded schools which lays emphasis on hore-riding, karate, tennis, shloka chanting and what not along with curriculum. All the classes are commercialized and taught by unskilled teachers with no aptitude for teaching. Stressed teachers rushing to finish their syllabi in dingy neon-lit a/c classrooms with LCD monitors and e- boards. The child is not able to grasp the concept. Parents pressurize them to do exceptionally well and they end up in private tuitions after school hours.

To channelize their energies Kids those days played in huge play grounds in school and in the neighbourhood where they raised dust storms , got dirty and played with friends unmindful of getting hurt or breaking their bones or catching infections all under sunshine. These games kept them mentally fit and less lethargic.
Today’s children have no ground or open space to run and play . They end up playing play station and video games in their ac environment under artificial lights. No Physical exercise. Then later on parents enroll them in a good dancing class/karate class/swimming class costing them a bomb.

Kid those days had simple toys ,books and clothes. Friends would share and exchange chandamama, ACK , Sputnik and other book. They cherished them like treasure and took good care of their things. Cycling was learnt on rented cycles which was rented for 50ps/hour.
Today’s generation of kids are growing on expensive electronic games (WII, PS,DS, X- box) and books . They have access to i-pod, internet, computers, cd’s DVD’s, - all their own, nothing borrowed or from a lending library. The vanity of the new book, dress and game console vanishes in no time and then they are ambitious for the upgraded versions. Today’s children have their own branded fancy cycle and keep updating with new models every three-four years according to their parents spending capability.

For kids those days, Party meant marriages and family functions where friends and relatives would get together.
Today, there are so many parties, birthday party, pyjama party,success party, dance party,theme party. Children wear branded clothes and they don’t repeat the dress, expensive junk food, costly party favors etc.

Vacation meant visit to grand parents place, local visits and inexpensive school excursions. There was no concept of summer camps.Music and dance were learnt after school hours which helped them to concentrate in studies All skills like team work, accepting failures gracefully, values of trust, honesty and handling up and downs were learnt through playing with friends.
Today’s children end up spending their summer vacation enrolled in summer classes in a a/c room with colorfully painted walls and more sophisticated lightings housed in a bylane. They have classes from 9-5 over shooting even their regular school timings. Pizza and burgers would be served with coke for lunch.

Inspite of all the facilities and loving parents, today’s children feel so insecure due to pressures from all quarters – peer, parental and school. No one to listen to their problems, no place to play, no proper study environment, don’t know how to handle problems, no immunity against diseases, no proper healthy diet, no moral/ethical values, no control over your emotions. Sad indeed is the plight of today’s kids.

If only parents/society/ teachers were more loving and accept their children with all the flaws and understand that academic excellence is not the only way to success and let children embrace their field of choice. If they raise them to be mentally strong and accept life’s up and downs with ease and teach them how to handle pressure rather than escape from pressure. If they inculcate moral,ethical,emotional, family and spiritual values in their children and not depend only on schools to impart them. If they realize that love cannot be measured with material comforts but physical presence ,guidance and symphatetic feelings. Perhaps , many lives would not be snuffed out so early.

Seeing today's children I feel we were lucky to have the best of parenting and much less complicated life.

After all tough times don't last only tough people do.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A passage to Thanjavur

Mystic India – has its own undeniable charm, a diverse culture that is enduring and powerful. Many ethnic culture, traditions, languages and cuisine make it more charming. These survive through ritual and practices that have not been shaken by modern and scientific fads. They also continue to mesmerize tourists and cultural ambassadors.

One such grand ethnic culture is the Thanjavur culture of South India to which I belong. Though born in Madras , brought up in Bangalore and at present based in Hyderabad, My ancestral roots are in a village called Edakkudi near Mayavaram, an ancient city in Tamilnadu on the banks of river Cauvery.

Tamil Brahmins Iyers are basically vedic scholors who perform vedic rituals in the kingdoms of southern kings. Having migrated from northern India many centuries back They settled around the Cauvery delta of Thanjavur, Mayavaram and Tiruchi. Many great civilizations have originated on the banks of rivers and these are rich in culture and so this river belt is also no exception.

This culture is a haven for craft lovers. Exquisite thribhuvanam silks, temple jewellery, richly adorned paintings of Hindu gods called Thanjavur paintings, Thalaiyatti bommi( head nodding doll), Mirror laden Thanjavur plates along with Kalasam, bronze and brass idols, good quality kitchen items, patthamadai pai(mats), beautiful papier mache items are some of the artifacts you can pick up on your trip to the places around Thanjavur. What’s more you can buy directly from the craftsmen at work at a good bargain.

Tanjavur district is dotted with world famous hindu temples renowned for its architecture and frescoes.One of them is the Brihadeeswara temple built by chola kings which stands as a testimony to ancient engineering skills. Also the grand anicut called kallanai - a dam built by stones across river cauvery which has withstood many floods. Thanjavur is also known as the southern granary for its rich paddy fields with river cauvery and its tributary coleroon meandering by.

It is also the cradle of classical carnatic music and Bharatanatyam dance which received royal patronage under the princely states. The musical trinity of Carnatic music namely Thyagarajar, syama satry and muthuswami dikshitar belonged to this place.

Each region and direction of india has different flavours of food and the flavors depend on the weather and the base ingredients available in that region. One such cuisine is the Thanjavur cuisine.

Thanjavur iyer cuisine is purely vegetarian and does not accommodate spices like fennel, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves , onions and garlic. Their base ingredients are tamarind, lentils, yogurt, coconut, redchillies, corianderseeds, pepper, cumin, turmeric and asafoetida. To garnish they use fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaf and coriander leaves. Their medium of cooking is sesame/coconut oil. Combinations of these spices along with vegetables give rise to a variety of curries,thick soups called sambar and watery soups called rasam.

Tanjore iyer cooking is also ritualistic and is as good as worshipping. Cooking is done only after bathing and wearing madi clothes( clothes worn from the clothes line directly after drying). Cooking is done along with shloka chanting in unique vessels called kal chatti( stone vessels), man chatti( mud vessels), iya chombu( tin vessels, irumbu vanali(iron),vengala uruli(brass) etc., The vibrations of the shloka is believed to render the food tasty along with the trace minerals of the cooking pots. The cooked food is first offered to gods as naivedyam, then to the ancestors who are in the guise of crows and then served to male members of the family on Banana leaves/silver plates. They sanctify the food by saying a hymn and then thanking the god before eating with fingers and not with forks/spoons. The women eat later.

There are also concepts like Pathu( avoiding contact with cooked food). For instance yogurt(uncooked food) and sambar(cooked food) are not touched simultaneously. One has to wash hands to touch yogurt if you have touched sambar. Another concept called Echil ( avoiding contact with saliva) – you do not sip your steel glass while drinking water but pour it from a height into your mouth. These concepts were basically formulated by our ancestors to ensure food safety and that is why food was also served on banana leaves since the saliva contaminated leaves could be disposed of. Since India is a tropical country and germs spread very fast and there were no concept of cold storage in those days.

Inspite of advances in food safety, storage and refridgeration the weight of tradition still remains strong and some south Indian iyer households still follow this practice.

In Thanjavur iyer house holds food served is in a sequential pattern. The meal starts with cooked rice consumed with paruppu(cooked lentil called tuvar dal) and ghee, Then rice with sambar(thick lentil soup with vegetables) accompanied by a vegetable curry, followed with rice and rasam( thin watery soup) and it ends with rice and yogurt accompanied by a spicy pickle/ narthelai podi( a powder made with tender citron leaves)/ small mangoes in brine solution called vadu mangai. Infact the undying love for yogurt and rice combo( thayir saadam) has earned the Tamil brahmin the sobriquet Thayir sadam community.

Many lip smacking indigenous main course dishes like vattal kozhumbu, veppampoo rasam, poriccha kootu, keerai masiyal,paruppu usili, mor kootu, mor kozhumbu thogaiyal,thengai saadam, puliyansaadam, break fast and tiffin items like dosa, idli, vadai, thavala adai,uttapam,sevai, mani kozhakattai, ven pongal, upma ,sweet dishes like asoka halwa, surul poli, pal payasam, akkara vadisal and poorna kozhakattai reflect the rich socio-cultural life of this place.

Keeping with the changing times many Tam brahms are today scattered globally and may/may not follow these practices and some are not relevant in today’s times. Onions and garlic are today used in most households. I too have deviated from some of the practices.It is easier to use your microwave oven, cookers and mixers.

But I hope to keep alive the homey, whole some, unpretentious, time honored traditional exotic recipes sourced through my Patti, thatha, appa ,amma, Mother–in-law and chitti patti through my future blogs. This will then be a ready reckoner for my children at later times.

Text in red are tamil names